Before Todd Phillips directed the Wolfpack through their hangover, he made Road Trip, a comedy about a college freshman who races to stop his longtime girlfriend from watching a sex tape he made with another woman. Road Trip shares some of its DNA with The Hangover, and both films have Phillips's mix of witty and physical humor. Road Trip's comedy is uneven at times, but the film has a lot of heart. Solid performances by Breckin Meyer, Seann William Scott, Amy Smart and DJ Qualls elevate the material above the pack of teen comedies released in the early 2000s.
Josh Parker (Meyer) and his girlfriend, Tiffany Henderson (Rachel Blanchard), are separated when each is accepted to a different college. Their long-distance relationship works for a while, but Tiffany eventually stops returning Josh's calls. Josh's buds, Rubin Carver (Paulo Costanzo) and Barry Manilow (Tom Green), convince him to forget Tiffany for a night, and, with the blessing of fraternity brother E.L. (Scott), Josh hooks up with classmate Beth (Smart). Josh and Beth share a genuine connection, but Josh balks when he discovers Rubin accidentally sent video evidence of the encounter to Tiffany. Facing academic expulsion and the end of his relationship with Tiffany, Josh gathers Rubin, E.L., and nerdy Kyle (Qualls) to drive to Austin, Texas, and recover the tape.
Like in The Hangover, the boys of Road Trip get themselves into some serious situations but suffer few lasting consequences. When a shortcut leads to a collapsed bridge, E.L. rockets Kyle's Ford Taurus across the river, clearing the gap but destroying the car in the process. The boys end up stealing a van from a blind woman, bunking at an all-black fraternity and visiting Barry's pot-smoking grandfather. This is all part of Phillips's zany situational humor, and, in the grand pursuit of comedy, it usually works. Road Trip is often very funny, and Phillips keeps the action fast and furious. While the guys are racing toward Austin, Beth goes looking for Josh to profess her love for him. Unfortunately, brain-dead Barry sends her to Boston, where she makes ripples of her own.
Road Trip is a cut above typical teen and college-set comedies thanks in large part to the cast. Phillips selected a diverse group of actors that plays off one another well. Green was at the height of his media saturation in 2000, but his bizarre brand of humor works in Road Trip because Phillips limits it to short bursts throughout the film. Barry stays at school, but awkward Kyle is a nice substitute outcast on the road. Scott dials back the bravado of American Pie's Stifler, but remains a powder keg of one-liners and bad ideas. Meyer looks much older than he should in the role, but does a nice job making the audience root for Josh.
There is a clear lineage between Road Trip and The Hangover, and fans of the latter who have never seen Road Trip will want to check it out. The last act drags a bit, but the characters are likeable enough that you want to see them succeed. There are a lot of big laughs, many at the expense of Kyle, and the requisite amount of sex and nudity to fulfill genre requirements. Road Trip may never be considered a classic comedy, but it is better than many others that walked a similar path.
At the time of this review, Road Trip is available exclusively at Best Buy.
I was not expecting a stellar transfer for Road Trip, but Paramount's Blu-ray looks pretty good. The 1.78:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image is nicely detailed, particularly in wide shots, many of which look downright impressive. Road Trip has its share of flat shots - a comedy trademark - but there are plenty of facial and background details. The image is nicely textured, and a light layer of grain adds to its film-like quality. Skin tones are accurate, and black levels are decent. I did notice some edge enhancement and a couple of very soft shots, but no aliasing or compression artifacts popped up.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is an efficient but occasionally front-loaded mix. Dialogue is crisp and clear, and never overpowered by the effects and score. The film features a lot of pop music, some of which sounds a bit anemic. As the film progresses, the track gains a bit of power, and the subwoofer kicks in during a dance-off at a frat party. Effects are generally limited to the front speakers, but some ambient and action effects do find their way to the surround speakers. French, Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are also available, as are English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
Road Trip is presented on Blu-ray in two forms: theatrical (1:33:42) and unrated (1:34:13). The extras are sparse and include Ever Been on a Road Trip? (4:55/SD), which is the closest thing to a behind-the-scenes featurette that the disc offers. The cast talks about Road Trip and road trips in general, and the piece has a comedic tone. There are a number of deleted scenes (10:54/SD), an Eels Music Video for "Mr. E's Beautiful Blues" (3:53/SD), the film's teaser trailer (1:51/HD), and two international trailers (2:12/HD and 2:25/HD).
Twelve years after its release, Road Trip is not a film that many reference without some sort of remainder. Even so, the comedy is a solid theatrical debut from The Hangover director Todd Phillips in which a college freshman takes his buddies on a road trip to keep a sex tape he made with a one-night stand out of the hands of his longtime girlfriend. Paramount's Blu-ray has solid picture and sound but only a few extras. Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.