It makes a certain kind of sense that Bad Trip, Eric André’s entry into the Gonzo Comedy Hall of Fame (see: Jackass, Borat, Bad Grandpa), starts in Florida. Not that the other 49 states of this fine U.S. of A. don’t have their share of goofballs, chowderheads, numbskulls, fuck-ups and jag-offs; it’s just that this particular Southeastern one has a reputation for American eccentricity that results in eyes bugging out, jaws dropping and shit going very wrong. Those “Florida Man” headlines are well-earned.
And the “Florida Man” energy is strong in this one, right from the get-go: No sooner has the comedian appeared onscreen, rocking a mechanic’s jumpsuit and washing a BMW in a West Grove car wash, then something genuinely WTF happens. If you’ve seen the trailer, you know it involves a vacuum hose and full frontal nudity. It also involves a customer who has no idea that he’s part of an elaborate prank that’s been set up for several rolling cameras, someone who is neither in on the joke nor the butt of it. The guy is just an innocent bystander who suddenly finds himself in the middle of a situation he hadn’t planned for or even possibly imagined, while a naked man tries desperately not to show his dick and balls to the world. “Florida Man Loses Clothes, Flashes Customers in Bizarre Car Detailing Accident.” Normally, you can’t make this stuff up. André engineers it like he’s in charge of a NASA launch.
The scene is over way, way too soon — a problem that plagues a lot of Bad Trip‘s gotcha scenarios, but that’s the risk you take when you’re literally putting your ass out there when making variable-heavy comedy — but it still does what it needs to do, i.e. set the tone and set up the “story.” Note the scare quotes; abandon all hope, ye who want a narrative here, which is frankly missing the point. This is no more a movie than The Eric André Show is a talk show. (Though the director, Kitao Sakurai, has also worked on that Adult Swim gem.) It’s a delivery system for strung-together Situationist happenings and performance art, a fancy way of saying that everyday people get co-opted into sometime highly elaborate, often hilarious, remarkably effective smart-comics-doing-really-dumb-and-gross shit. Including, in one case, a bit that may or may not have involved being covered in actual fecal matter. We don’t know just how Jackass things got here.
Right, sorry, the story: So when Chris (André) is cleaning the unsuspecting gent’s car, a second customer drives up. Her name is Maria (Michaela Conlin), and she was Chris’s high school crush. He was going to ask her out, but then whoosh go his clothes. Later, he finds out she lives in New York and runs an art gallery. If he’s ever town, drop by and see her. So Chris grabs his best friend Bud (Lil Rel Howery), they take the pink Crown Victoria that belongs to Bud’s sister, Trina (Tiffany Haddish) — she’s in prison, it’s all good — and plan a road trip to visit Chris’s soulmate. When Trina “releases” herself from the clink, she finds out that her car’s been stolen and decides to track these guys down across the Eastern seaboard.
There’s a version of Bad Trip in which you pay attention to this tender story of best friends who’ll do anything for each other, who have their ups and downs but still have each other’s backs, rednecks and psycho siblings and cops be damned. The version you’ll probably want to push to the forefront, however, is the one where these three comedians, respectively and together, stage the kind of truly outrageous shenanigans that make you wonder how the hell they got out of these scenes alive. Looking at my notes, I see nothing but a series of phrases: “Chinese Finger Trap,” “Smoothie Shop Blender,” “Cowboy Bar,” “Projectile Vomiting,” “A Priest,” “The Hamptons,” “Gorilla Selfie.” (That last one is genuinely above and beyond the call of duty.) To try and explain what they mean wouldn’t do the gags justice, though I will say that a sequence involving a a movie-musical number in a mall — which includes singing, dancing, a giant wedding cake and the threat of actual violence — is a work of genius.
In other, the sheer hilariousness of a number of individual bits here are enough to get you past slow spots and a few D.O.A. duds, and you come out of Bad Trip with a serious appreciation for this trio’s chops and ability to go with the flow. (Four, actually: Conlin can more than hold her own when she needs to.) And unlike the Jackass crew’s how-low-can-you-go competitions and Borat‘s politicized exposés, there’s almost a sweetness to the way these folks prank the public. The everyday folks who find themselves having to deal with angry ex-cons or exchanges spiraling out of control aren’t marks; they’re more like collaborators in the movie’s “what if” set-ups. For every encounter in which you fear that André or Howery or Haddish are actually going to get the snot beat of out of them for antagonizing folks, there are a half dozen examples of people stepping in and defusing things, offering help, trying to de-escalate a blow-up. The end credits roll feature a bunch of “smile, you’re on Candid Camera” reveals that lead to smiles and yelps of “oh my god, that was crazy!” The joke’s not on them. They were just a key part of the trip.