2021 has been an incredible year for absurdist comedies that push the boundaries of socially acceptable humor to the extremes. Josh Greenbaum’s “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar” is still the funniest (and best) film of the year (so far), but there’s a new competitor in town that dares to go back to the hidden camera pranks of MTV’s “Jackass” era: Bad Trip. Co-produced by “Jackass” filmmaker Jeff Tremaine and directed by “The Eric Andre Show” helmer Kitao Sakurai, Bad Trip contains some of the funniest hidden camera pranks since 2002’s “Jackass: The Movie,” with an extra level of authenticity that’s never been truly reached before.
The film’s framing device is rather simple: Chris (Eric André, “Rough Night”) rekindles with the high-school love of his life, Maria Li (Michaela Conlin, “Enchanted”) while working at a smoothie shop, which prompts him to go on a road trip to New York City with his best friend, Bud (Lil Rel Howery, “Get Out”), to go after Maria. They embark in Bud’s sister Trina’s (Tiffany Haddish, “Nobody’s Fool”) stolen car without knowing that she recently broke out of prison and is currently on the lookout for them.
The “road trip” device serves as a quasi-excuse for André, Howery, and Haddish to prank real people without ever being afraid of pushing it to the extremes. And this is what makes Bad Trip particularly funny: Seeing Eric André and others perform exuberant acts of total “shock-slapstick” comedy for a completely impervious public and always going the extra mile to make every situation as uncomfortable as possible. For example, Chris works at a smoothie shop, with a total disregard of basic hygiene protocols (this is particularly timely in the COVID era we currently live in) and, after seeing “the love of his life” for the first time in a year, accidentally puts his hand in a blender which begins to splatter out *lots* of blood. The timing is impeccable, especially when the hidden cameras brilliantly capture the customers’ natural reactions of pure disgust and, finally, shock. And this bit only gives a taste of what’s to come, with the pranks becoming more elaborate (and sometimes reaching downright terrifying levels of comedy) as the film moves along.
Eric André is, in my opinion, one of the funniest comedians living today — and continues to prove his dynamite timing with this film. This feels like a movie especially crafted for him (and his friends) to showcase just how talented he is at not only physical comedy, but also improvisation. Many of the sequences with real people aren’t scripted, and André’s quick-thinking makes him shine in almost every single one of these scenes. This is most evident because the film’s scripted scenes that supposedly “move the plot forward” are incredibly dull and uninspired to watch. Of course, you’re not going to watch Bad Trip for the plot — chances are you’re watching the movie for André and Sakurai’s skills at revitalizing a (seemingly) long-dead sub-genre of comedy, which is fine, but the plot should’ve still been more polished and feel less rushed.
Also, running at almost 79-minutes without credits, the movie doesn’t have enough time to properly develop character depth or the relationships between Chris, Bud, and Trina effectively, forgoing that to go to the “good stuff” quickly. It’s safe to say, if you want your audience to truly immerse themselves to not only the insane hidden-camera sequences Sakurai and André put on display, it helps to have compelling characters. Without them, the hidden-camera sequences feel completely detached from the alleged story piecing it all together.
Still, Bad Trip begs to be experienced. It brilliantly recaptures the unflinching insanity of Jeff Tremaine’s “Jackass” triptych whilst reaching new levels of stranger participation and authenticity Tremaine’s films were never able to achieve. Put the poorly-developed story aside and have fun with Kitao Sakurai’s boundary-pushing comedy that’s sure to elicit an insane amount of laughter . . . though be warned of its audacity to shock with many gross-out sequences. If you loved “Jackass,” you will absolutely adore Bad Trip. Take the plunge on Netflix — you will most certainly not regret it.