It only takes Eric André a couple of minutes to get naked in “Bad Trip,” and another half hour before he’s sodomized by a gorilla, which should give you a sense of how quickly this goofy hidden camera romp careens from zero to crazy and just keeps going. In director Kitao Sakurai’s quasi-scripted comedy, the comedian plays a klutzy reprobate who drives from Miami to New York in search of his high school crush, but the flimsy plot is little more than an excuse for André to screw with people up and down the Eastern Seaboard.
Anyone familiar with André’s aggressive ability to push people into cringe-inducing circumstances will find plenty of that anarchic spirit on display here, usually outpacing the story around it. But it’s also given proper context: André’s devious style and wit is matched by a bumbling turn by Lil Rel Howery as his best pal, and even upstaged by a muscular Tiffany Haddish, as Howery’s sister and an escaped convict, who’s constantly on their tail. Together, the trio shows so much investment in the hidden camera concept that the entertainment factor often comes from simply watching them pull it off time and again.
For the past decade, André’s vulgar prank-art has split the difference between “Jackass” and Sacha Baron Cohen, merging the zany physicality of the former with the sociological insight of the latter — though André’s less invested in bringing out the biases of his victims than simply using their shock as a distended punchline. Unlike the trippy Adult Swim excursions of “The Eric André Show,” however, “Bad Trip” forces André’s rascally in-your-face style into a jovial road trip formula that can’t help feeling less ambitious or satisfying than the stunts along the way.
The script, credited to André and Sakurai along with a few of their “Eric André Show” writers, seems pat enough: André plays Chris, a know-nothing troublemaker who veers from one job after the next, growing weary of the monotony as he tells his longtime pal Bud (Howery) that better times lie ahead. Of course, they don’t, and that’s just enough motivation for the pair to finally break free of their surroundings.
“Bad Trip” rises and falls on the basis of its gags, but they’re usually variations of the same formula. The movie essentially repeats one early stunt twice: Chris first sees old teen obsession Maria (Michaela Conlin) at an auto shop, where a mishap with a vacuum cleaner leaves him nude and cowering in a customer’s vehicle; next, she spots him behind the counter of a juice bar, where he accidentally mutilates his hand. In both cases, the actress enters and exits the scene without acknowledging the insanity on display, while André brilliantly coaxes random onlookers into playing a part in the scene.
All of that builds to a hilarious outdoor musical number in which André recognizes his need to find Maria back in New York, while more baffled people inadvertently become part of his show. Unlike “Borat” or “Bad Grandpa,” André isn’t presenting people with a cartoonish caricature. Instead, it’s the utter blandness of Chris that makes his unusual behavior so shocking — he’s an ordinary guy untethered from the common sense of the world around him, and it’s always hilarious to watch as he goads people into providing the reaction shots he needs to punctuate each joke.
In any case, “Bad Trip” ambles along, with Chris and Bud finally hitting the road in the hot-pink car owned by Bud’s sister Trina (Haddish) while she’s locked up. Equipped with a “Bad Bitch” license plate, the vehicle seems like an extension of Trina’s irascible persona. (“It’s like Pepto Bismol — it fixes anything!” she says. “Even though I like to drink Pepsi Bismol with a little Hennesy.”) When Trina sneaks away from her prison transport (freaking out a random guy on the sidewalk, of course), the movie instantly belongs to Haddish, in her most outright satisfying and ludicrous turn since she stole the show with “Girls Trip.” In this case, “Bad Trip” doesn’t get much better than the image of Trina flipping the bird from stolen police car after ripping off its driver’s seat door.
But it does get more familiar, with Chris and Bud enduring accidental drug trips, bar fights, and various other complications as they work their way toward New York, which arrives with a series of naturally chaotic showdowns. By the time they get to the aforementioned gorilla, some viewers may feel as though they got the basic idea. But there’s a certain wily energy that surrounds even the most ludicrous scenes, the sense that André and his cohorts are so invested in reigniting lowball comedy that they’re willing to put their actual lives on the line to earn the laughs.
The credits of “Bad Trip” do a victory lap on the whole routine, peeking behind the scenes as André and others reveal the candid cameras to their unwitting supporting players. Unlike Baron Cohen’s work, André seems to invite his targets to crack up with him, and they’re more than happy to oblige. “Bad Trip” is an extension of that all-inclusive approach: It’s a blunt instrument of absurdity, but that’s also what makes it so much fun.
“Bad Trip” is now streaming on Netflix.