Just average as comedy, the energetic “Trippin’ ” nonetheless lifts itself somewhat above the current teenpic fray by virtue of its unusually serious-minded and well-thought-out message of self-determination. Unlikely to cross over beyond largely African-American auds, slick low-budgeter should do respectable biz in quick theatrical playoff, then become a must-rent item for its youthful demographic at the vid store.
Actor turned writer-director Gary Hardwick’s screenplay reveals its “Walter Mitty”–type concept right from the start, as Greg (Deon Richmond) dreams of a rap-video lifestyle in which women, wealth and high style are his. “What’s da bomb?/Me at your prom!” he brags. But upon waking, high school senior Greg faces a less appealing reality — his middle-class, hard-working parents nag him to fill out college applications, his part-time job at a rib joint is a drag, and nobody wants to be his prom date.
Best friend June (Donald Adeosun Faison) doesn’t have that last problem: Rather, he’s hustled so many girls with empty promises in exchange for sex that half the female campus population expects to attend the prom as his date. June is also, unwisely, selling some stolen goods for suave local thug Kenyatta (Stoney Jackson). A third friend, Fish (Guy Torry), is just an all-around goof whose constant videocamming doesn’t add much to pic’s visual or narrative drive.
Indifferent to scholastics, Greg and his buddies spend their school days doing little more than drooling over passing booty and blowharding about their unrealistic life plans, which don’t really extend any further into the future than prom night. (The film frequently digresses into Greg’s daydreams of glory, which parody T&A-laden gangsta-lifestyle cliches as well as the “Rambo” and “Terminator” movies.) Their role-model teacher Mr. Shapic (Michael Warren) warns that living in the moment — especially with graduation just a month away — will have dire consequences.
But at first Greg’s only “goal” is a seemingly unattainable one: making good on his crush on Cinny (Maia Campbell). Gorgeous, a straight-A student already accepted to university, boyfriend duly in tow, Cinny is way out of Greg’s league. But he does manage to develop a friendship with her by asking for help with his own (alleged) college-application process.
Eventually, this platonic relationship gains romantic overtones, and Cinny (feeling cramped by her bossy b.f.) even accepts Greg’s prom invite — though he tells a lie to press her decision. Perhaps even more important, though, various factors start making Greg aware that life does go on after graduation, and he’s not at all prepared for it. While at first he considered college something for suckas, he now increasingly recognizes it as his only chance to avoid drudge work. Or the criminal life, toward which June is now being strong-armed.
Not just a tacked-on moral but the engine driving the plot, pic’s emphasis on the importance of creating a future for yourself is most cunningly relayed in a couple of telling scenes. In one, a Career Fair at DuBois High School is ignored by students with nothing on their minds except partying. In another, Joe, June and Fish face off against bad guy Kenyatta — who gloatingly tells them that while they may disdain him now, they’ll soon realize his is the best “job offer” they’ll ever get. There’s also a tart fantasy bit in which Greg imagines himself as a middle-aged loser.
Tacit message here is that career options and material gains don’t come easy for African-American youth, now more than ever. Without waxing too preachy, this strongly advanced lesson gives pic a real backbone amid the otherwise OK but routine comic antics involving bullies and smart-mouthed women (notably Countess Vaughn’s turn as Cinny’s pal Anetta). If no gag is particularly inspired here, at least Hardwick and actor-turned-director David Raynr avoid the usual teenpic siren call of dumb slapstick and rote scatological riffing.
The pliant-featured Richmond is an agreeable, comically adept lead. Other perfs are good within the limits of roles that are credible, if generally lacking in depth. Pacing is sharp, lensing slick, soundtrack expectedly full of hip-hop tunes.