When you think of prank movies, both Borat films and the Jackass franchise immediately come to mind. They’ve imprinted themselves so deeply into mainstream consciousness that most filmmakers won’t take a crack at the niche genre. You either pull off a cultural reset or become a forgotten blip in the Hollywood machine.
With that said, the hidden camera format is often more digestible in episodic doses, like MTV’s Punk’d or truTV’s Impractical Jokers. These programs can easily get away with the eccentric scenarios they concoct because the performers they use are either unknown or disguised beyond recognition with makeup and prosthetics. But director Kitao Sakurai is not intimidated by the legends that preceded him, as evidenced in the ferociously funny Bad Trip. The Netflix original is a hybrid success, combining uproarious hidden camera antics with buddy comedy sentimentalism.
The trio of Eric Andre, Lil Rel Howery, and Tiffany Haddish have enough combined star wattage to light up Times Square. And yet, they masterfully disguise their celebrity by launching surrounding observers into reactive defense. People who witness their scripted and improvised catastrophes are too caught off guard to process what is happening in front of them, let alone recognize the TSA agent from Get Out or the breakout performer in Girls Trip. Everyone is in a perpetual state of brain freeze, so absorbed by the trainwrecks in front of them that all they can do is activate a flight-or-flight response. Being in on the joke to watch bystanders be tricked yet fully allowed to participate without intervention is an audience privilege beyond compare.
Andre, who wrote the screenplay alongside Kitao Sakurai and Dan Curry, made the savvy move of revolving his narrative around the obnoxious male ego. By showing the delusional stupidity of pursuing a one-sided romance — in this case, Chris Carey (Andre) igniting a spark that never was, with childhood crush Maria Li (Michaela Conlin) — the multifaceted comedian weakens this male gaze plot device. No, the woman won’t have a change of heart at the last minute like so many romcoms with man-child protagonists, who go to desperate lengths for validation. Moreover, Bad Trip gives a side-eye to buddy comedies everywhere that feature pals clearly more in love with each other than the women they pine for. God forbid two straight guys apply the word “soulmate” outside a heteronormative framework.
Lil Rel Howery plays Andre’s best friend Bud Malone, a rational yet timid guy whose loyalty compels him to join Chris’s shenanigans. Somehow, Andre convinces Bud to steal his sister Trina’s (Haddish) car while serving her prison sentence. What the two don’t know is that Trina breaks out during a prisoner transfer. Watching Haddish cause a ruckus everywhere she goes, demanding the whereabouts of her brother and his foolish bestie, will elicit copious amounts of anxiety-ridden cackling. Do the hijinks get a tad repetitive? Sure. Does it stop me from laughing so hard that I turn my pandemic body into a Men’s Health ad from all the abdominal strain? Absolutely not!
What’s even more fascinating is how onlookers become invested in Haddish tracking the thieving duo. One woman has no qualms about selling the guys out and makes it verbally known just whose side she’s on. Sequences like these add an extra layer of immersion that the genre never really had before because it was so overproduced by the talent involved. Here, Sakurai and Andre throw chaos into a pit of people and then step back. Bad Trip derives endless entertainment from organic responses to outrageous situations.
Bad Trip is currently streaming on Netflix.