Hidden camera comedy is an enduring genre. On TV, kids of the noughties will remember the heyday of MTV’s Punk’d, with extra points to anyone who enjoyed Hell Date. In film, this has most recognisably appeared through Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat; an outlandish character let loose on unsuspecting members of the public while on some madcap quest. Bad Trip fuses these formats with comedians Eric Andre and Lil’ Rel Howery pulling a series of pranks ranging from juvenile to wild, as they play best friends travelling – and being pursued – on the road.
Eric Andre has been on the comedy scene for over a decade, creating, co-writing and hosting The Eric Andre Show since 2012, as well as voice acting and popping up across various film and TV shows. Yet even with an impressive resume, his face isn’t as widely known. This makes Andre perfect to team up with Lil Rel Howery, another star who, despite a career including his memorable turn in Get Out, has a face that can fly under the radar.
After bumping into Maria, his high school crush, Chris (Andre) persuades his best friend Bud (Howery) to steal his sister’s car and drive from Florida to New York so he can declare his undying love. Stealing cars from siblings is never the greatest idea; especially not bright pink cars with ‘Bad B*tch’ stickered on the back window. And definitely not when Bud’s sister Trina, played bombastically by Tiffany Haddish, is an escaped convict with a brash manner, to say the least. What ensues is all very ridiculous and flimsy, but most importantly – it’s funny. Right from the get-go, Andre throws himself whole-heartedly into each prank and he and director, Kitao Sakurai, engineer situations that cover a range of mischief-making cornerstones. Nudity, fake gore, crass sexual mishaps; Bad Trip essentially throws a whole host of tricks at the wall, and perhaps 50% actually stick – just.
Where Andre is the clown, the usual initiator of the pranks who is trying to draw in bystanders, Howery is the straight-man despairing at the antics and working to legitimise the situation. Playing the stereotypical prison gangster, and demanding help from passersby in tracking down Chris and Bud, Haddish stands out as is easily the most recognisable cast member, rising to global attention and acclaim for her role as the rambunctious Dina in 2017’s smash hit Girls Trip. It’s perhaps her grandiose performance, that obscures her likeness from those she encounters; teamed with the reasonable assumption that just because someone looks extremely like Tiffany Haddish dressed as a runaway convict, doesn’t mean they are. Trina is the outlandish character of the piece, and has some of the more entertaining scenes, including bursting into a phone shop charged up on ‘pepto-bismal and Henny’. As amusing as Haddish can be, there are times when her schtick reaches its limit and flags a little, but she remains a strong player.
Even with the skill of the cast, what undoubtedly provides most of the comedy amongst the mayhem is the reactions of the public. From discreet – and not so discreet – looks of utter disturbance and sheer disbelief to those who willingly, and in many cases altruistically step in to offer assistance, the range of reactions is what carries the film. The best interactions come from those who conspire with the pranksters. Such as a man on community service who advises Trina in no uncertain terms to run as she escapes from under the wheels of a prison bus. While the purest exchanges are from two seniors giving Chris earnest tips on how to woo Maria. There’s an openness on display that reflects the good in people and is genuinely lovely to see.
Between pranks, the road trip format allows for moments where it’s just Andre and Howry in the car riffing off each other. The film benefits from this as the pair have great chemistry that generates its own hilarity, more often funnier than the pranks themselves, and serving a much-needed break between the hidden camera elements. Bad Trip certainly won’t be for everyone. Some of the pranks feel very dated and fall flat, others illicit a chuckle or a gasp, but aren’t exactly anything new. Yet, there’s still a place for messy, slapstick films that function simply to provide some light relief – pandemic hellscape – or otherwise.
Bad Trip is available on Netflix now.