By Chaz Lipp

The Lowdown: The four leads make a great team, but the wild comedy takes an unwelcome turn into soapy drama.

Rauch comedy (emphasis on raunch) Girls Trip starts out funny but takes a damaging hard turn into soapy drama. Director Malcolm D. Lee indulges his talented cast in every bit of mugging that can possibly be wrung from Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver’s often-predictable screenplay (they wrote the recent Barbershop: The Next Cut, which Lee directed). Regina Hall plays self-help queen Ryan, whose seemingly picture-perfect marriage to to former NFL star Stuart (Mike Colter) turns out to be a fraud. He’s a serial cheater, but Ryan willingly overlooks his affairs lest it upset her multi-million dollar TV and publishing empire.

When Ryan reunites with her estranged best friends (collectively known in their party-hearty heyday as the “Flossy Posse”) for a New Orleans vacay, she’s confronted with her own hypocrisy. How can this woman who markets herself as a working woman who “has it all” be so disrespected and walked-on by her man? Her friends’ insistence that she own up to her double standards is dealt with in the mawkish third act, but the fun happens while Ryan her gal pals cut loose in favor a wild time at the Essence Music Festival.

Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith) seeks to rediscover her wild side (she learns to “grapefruit” a random hookup; don’t worry if you’re unfamiliar with the term, so was Lisa). Dina (Tiffany Haddish, who steals the show—she’s the least-known of the four main actresses but her performance will likely change that) is the free spirit. Sasha (Queen Latifah) is a gossip columnist who, upon learning about Stuart’s infidelity, struggles with the temptation to break the story on her fledgling website. Meanwhile, the Essence Music Festival backdrop allows for plenty of music biz cameos including Maxwell, Diddy, Mariah Carey, Common, Babyface, Doug E. Fresh, and more.

Larenz Tate, a ’90s star who seems to have been largely absent from the big screen in recent years, is a bassist with a heart of gold. Unfortunately, Tate is given little to do other than to serve as an example to Ryan that not all men are cheating rats. Sometimes the tone of Girls Trip is disconcertingly inconsistent. Apparently being “independent women,” at least for the Flossy Posse, means getting as drunk and/or high as possible. It also seems to give them free reign to commit violent assault against another female posse in an ugly bar room brawl (just because the sequence allows for a callback to Latifah and Pinkett Smith’s pairing in Set It Off doesn’t make it less reprehensible).

Here’s the big lapse in logic in Girls Trip: if Ryan is really the household-name celebrity she’s depicted as, her unhinged public behavior throughout the Trip would probably be a bigger story than Stuart’s indiscretion. In the midst of all the press assembled for the Essence fest, where are all the paparazzi to snap shots of Ryan’s debauchery?

Still, the camaraderie between the four leads is winningly spirited. See Girls Trip for the star-making, breakout performance by Tiffany Haddish.

Girls Trip images: Universal Pictures; Will Packer Productions

Chaz Lipp

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