Review: It’s only a ‘Bad Trip’ if it doesn’t make you laugh
The thing about critiquing almost any comedian is that you will inevitably find yourself coming up against avid (if not rabid) fans insistent that you just don’t “get” the work. Eric Andre in particular, with his trademark Dadaist impulses and penchant for all things uncomfortably nude, is undoubtedly one of those figures. Those who enjoy his surreal and animated style of laughs will be quick to defend the comedian, citing his ability to deconstruct staid notions of late-night television and bland stand-up with his long-running Adult Swim series “The Eric Andre Show.”
On the other hand, his detractors would rightfully point to Andre’s history of transphobic, fatphobic, and myriad other jokes which serve only to punch down at certain individuals who, one might argue, have already been punched down on enough.
Which is why “Bad Trip,” the long-awaited hidden-camera comedy flick helmed by long-time “Eric Andre Show” director Kitao Sakurai, is such a curious film. Ostensibly a buddy road movie following Chris Carey (Andre, also a co-writer) and best friend Bud Malone (Lil Rel Howery) as they travel cross-country to New York, “Bad Trip” seems to be aware of these criticisms of Andre and the way in which they would be further visible in a wide-release movie (now launching on Netflix). The jump from Adult Swim to feature film has been accompanied by a watering down of Andre’s unpredictable absurdities and instead offers a much more conventional approach to its prankster schematics.
The laughs are certainly there, but Andre’s almost trademark sense of intentional derangement is missing and in many ways, this is one of his strengths as a performer. Sure, there are the juvenile gags that form many of the film’s comedic centerpieces — a scene involving boisterous gorilla sex comes to mind as one of several moments that attempts to tap into Andre’s chaotic energy but fizzles out, leaving instead the bad taste of an obvious, if not adolescent, bit. While for some this style of failure might only deepen their appreciation for Andre and the ways in which they view him as a sort of anti-comedian, it’s also imperative to remember that the phrase anti-comedy should not act as a synonym for shallow, empty or thoughtless.
The film loosely entwines its real-world pranks with an overarching story that knows itself to be a farce, but can’t help but be burdened by its halfhearted tries at sincerity. Andre is not a strong enough actor to pull this particular positioning off but then again, that is anything but the point here. Even within that, the slack nature of “Bad Trip’s” premise is enough to put in higher relief both the successes and failures of the comedy’s gags. The former has a sharp ability to see the innately comedic textures of humanity (further seen in the film’s delightful post-credits sequence), while the latter is too staged and likewise rigidly edited (particularly toward the film’s front end which too often takes on the tonality of a warm-up).
For a cornier, more establishment type of comedian, the kind of story environment emblematic of these failures might be par for the course but for an iconoclast like Andre, the misses here can be glaring — I doubt even his most stringent detractors would honestly be able to call Andre a mediocre or average performer. Which is why it is so disappointing that “Bad Trip” falls just as easily into humdrum ordinariness as much as it does its most simple and effective bits.
Andre’s influences have always been clear, from Sacha Baron Cohen to Tom Green to the “Jackass” bunch, but they struggle in the present when faced with Andre’s move from surrealism to literalism. Unlike oft-cited inspiration and Borat star Cohen, Andre’s previous world-making has been exactly out of this world, if not a complete undoing and deflation of it. While he is able to elevate the everyday to the level of the comedic through a more even-keeled yet effective style of absurdity here, there is a certain degree of impact missing that will will be expected given the star. While Howery provides the perfect foil to Andre’s Chris and Tiffany Haddish (here playing Bud’s prison-breaking sister, Trina Malone) is, as always, nothing but an expert improviser (and arguably the reason to see “Bad Trip”), it is Andre’s strange turn to reality which will leave audiences searching for more.
All of this said and done, if it makes you laugh (and I mean really makes you laugh) as it often did me, that can be salve enough.
Rated: R, for crude sexual content, pervasive language, some graphic nudity and drug use
Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes
Playing: Available March 26 on Netflix
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