Pranks have evolved from “Jackass” to “Borat,” “Punk’d” to “Impractical Jokers.”
This Friday, Netflix drops “Bad Trip,” mixing scripted comedy and reality pranks to mixed effect, providing a few laugh-out-loud gags between lackluster plot points.
The story follows two buddies, Chris (Eric Andre) and Bud (Lil Rel Howery), who embark on a road trip to New York to find an old high-school flame. They drive a pink car marked “Bad B****,” which belongs to Bud’s escaped convict sister, Trina (Tiffany Haddish). Along the way, they encounter unsuspecting strangers for reality pranks.
The project is largely a vehicle for Andre, who you’ve seen in movies (“Rough Night”) and sitcoms (“2 Broke Girls”). Here, he has zero shame, losing his clothes multiple times, pretending to be drunk in public, faking mental breakdowns, bursting into a romantic musical number, and even doing it like they do on the Discovery Channel.
His partner in crime is Howery, who was absolutely hysterical as Daniel Kaluuya’s best friend and TSA agent in Jordan Peele’s horror masterpiece “Get Out” (2017). Here, Howery is the straight man, the Jeff Daniels to Andre’s Jim Carrey, taking turns behind the wheel and morphing like a funhouse mirror as the road trip becomes a drug trip.
Still, the best casting is the always hilarious Haddish, whose brash brand of comedy has slapped since her breakout role in “Girls Trip” (2017). In “Bad Trip,” she’s a real trip, donning an orange prison jumpsuit to click her heels midair and proclaim, “I’m free!” Her character may break the law, but she provides a fiery female antagonist.
We can’t say the same for the other female role, Andre’s high-school crush (Michaela Conlin, “Bones”). It’s not the fault of the performance, it’s just that the role is written as one-dimensional, not giving the actress much to work with until we reach the third act.
Often, the buddy flick feels straight out of the ’90s. You’ll expect Tom Green to show up like Todd Phillips’ “Road Trip” (2000). It also steals from the Farrelly Brothers’ “Dumb and Dumber” (1994) by having a daydream interrupted by a honking big rig. Strangely, the film goes to great lengths to reference the Wayans Brothers’ “White Chicks” (2004).
While I understand the “Dumb and Dumber” homage — it’s the “Citizen Kane” of lowbrow comedy — it’s odd that a 2021 comedy would make its final scene a callback to a 2004 “whiteface” flick that was widely panned (Rotten Tomatoes: 15% Critics:, 55% Audience). Couldn’t they have picked something more culturally relevant?
Such lazy writing makes the scripted parts drag. Most glaring is an argument between the two buddies, which comes out of nowhere as if the writers remembered, “Oh, crap, we need an ‘all is lost’ moment. Quick, start fighting!” At least their moment of reconciliation is touching, prompting a stranger to gasp, “Aww, that’s so sweet!”
Alas, enough nitpicking of the writing. The script is merely connective tissue between reality pranks. Some gags are harmless (jolting a plumber), others are illuminating (advice at a bus stop) and a few are so raunchy that some viewers will groan (golf course). Even so, I defy you not to laugh at the zoo bit, saying, “What am I watching?!”
In the end, I admire the attempt at juggling scripted material with reality stunts. It’s a fun cinematic experiment by director Kitao Sakurai (“The Eric Andre Show”) and producer Jeff Tremaine (“Jackass”), particularly in the end credits when we see the method behind their directorial madness, coaching Andre’s submissive posture.
In many ways, the end credits are the best part, showing behind-the-scenes reveals to the innocent bystanders that they just got pranked. It’s here that we see the actors’ real personalities, which are way more likable than the pathetic characters they play.
Ultimately, you’ll ask yourself: How do the bystanders not recognize them? Maybe these outtakes ended up on the cutting room floor, but certainly, at least one person quipped, “Hey, it’s the guy from ‘Get Out,'” or “Look everyone, that’s Tiffany Haddish!”