Saturday, March 27, 2021

Bad Trip isn't bad but it does fall short of Eric Andre's best comedy

For almost a decade now, Eric Andre has been providing unbelievably funny material through his Adult Swim program The Eric Andre Show. For those who haven't seen it, it's a parody of a traditional talk-show blended with prank segments where Andre and sidekick Hannibal Buress engage in elaborate and bizarre comedic scenarios much to the befuddlement of everyday New Yorkers. It's a hysterical program that makes great use of masterfully-timed editing, Andre's commitment to the utterly weird, and the shows growing comfort with engaging in borderline surrealist humor. Remember that Octopus sketch? It was as much the stuff of nightmares as it was comedy! 

Andre's now moved over to the big screen for Bad Trip, a movie that isn't quite a feature-film adaptation of the entirety of The Eric Andre Show. However, it carries over much of the show's crew (including director Kitao Sakurai) and definitely feels like an extension of those prank sketches. Here, Andre plays Chris Carey, a guy living a meager life in Florida when his old High School crush, Maria Li (Michaela Conlin) walks back into his life. They only have a brief interaction, but after learning she has a New York City art show in four days, Carey is determined to get there and reunite with Li. He'll need the help of his best buddy Bud Malone (Lil Rel Howery) as well as the car belonging to Malone's sister Trina Malone (Tiffany Haddish).

If there's a big issue with Bad Trip, it's that it reminds one too much of classic Eric Andre hidden-camera segments. In the best of those, Andre would show up as a staggeringly random comic character (like the Ranch Up! guy) told through unpredictable editing and random sound effects. Bad Trip, meanwhile, has comedy set pieces that are intentionally more grounded. Andre is always playing everyman Chris Carey, so no delightfully off-the-wall characters here. The absurdist editing is confined to one drug trip sequence. Even if it features prolonged sex scenes between Carey and a gorilla, Bad Trip sometimes does feel like a slightly watered-down version of The Eric Andre Show.

Now, Bad Trip didn't just have to rehash old Eric Andre Show sketches to be good. Time and time again, the hidden-prank comedy film has found ways to reinvent itself. However, confining this kind of comedy to a traditional narrative in a mainstream feature has taken some of the wind out of Andre's sails. It all ends up hewing too closely to those segments without pulling off enough successful comedy of its own. During the flatter comedy moments, it's impossible not to be reminded about how you could be rewatching the bit where Andre smashes up a cop car. Even it's disappointing that it can't quite hit the highs of Andre's past forays, though, Bad Trip still had me smiling for much of its wisely brief runtime. 

Maybe I'm just an easy lay for Andre's comedy, but I did find myself chuckling more often than not with ribald antics happening on-screen. The funniest parts about Bad Trip turn out to be the reactions from ordinary people to the madness happening around them. I especially liked an early scene showing Andre working at a frozen yogurt shop where he handles fruit toppings with his bare hands. The incredulous response from the patrons had me giggling up a storm, ditto a follow-up bit involving their reactions to Andre having an unfortunate encounter with a blender. These passerby's don't need a script to be funny, their off-the-cuff reactions alone are enough to make me chuckle.

The jokes in Bad Trip also tend to excel the darker they get, as seen with a closing bit involving Maria Li and her raw emotional line deliveries. Juxtaposing the framework of a cliche wacky road trip comedy with these bursts of something ripped from brutal reality is an effective recipe for comedy. Meanwhile, Howery, despite not having much prior experience with hidden-camera comedy, proves to be a good pick to bounce off Andre. He embraces all of the wacky material this story throws at him while he also has solid chemistry with Andre in their one-on-one scenes. It can't help but linger in the shadow of The Eric Andre Show, but Bad Trip is a passable diversion, though it probably would have played better watched with a crowd. This is the kind of film you need to watch with the energy of a packed house of moviegoers, not alone in your room on a Friday night. 

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