From the opening quote by Ronald Reagan to the intensely sadistic violence in the first few minutes of the film, you know The Tripper will be loaded with sex, drugs, and rock `n roll - as well as extreme political jabs and hippie killing. So what's not to love? Well, as Reagan himself once said, "You can tell a lot about a fellow's character by the way he eats jellybeans." No, I don't get it either.
A group of hippie fodder trek to a small town in the middle of a forest to participate in the Free Love Festival and indulge in massive quantities of narcotics. However, they soon discover they're not exactly welcome when they are assailed by paintball gun toting rednecks, the local police, and an axe-wielding serial killer who fancies Ronald Reagan.
The Tripper's strongest point of originality (not that there have been other hippie serial killer movies) lies within its psychopathic murderer who dons a suit, a tie, and a President Reagan mask as he metes out his vicious carnage. With an origin as brutally twisted as Freddy or Jason, Ronnie seems destined to make his mark as a deranged killer worth rooting for. And we do, but not because he's so compelling a villain, but rather because his prey is so uninterestingly bland - which is a shame when the protagonists contain six young stars and one of them is Jason Mewes, who should have been right at home with the offbeat comedy and drug humor. Jaime King adequately embodies the screaming primary victim, and while her character gets more interesting as the film progresses, there's still relatively little motivation to continue supporting her survival. The majority of entertaining characters are the supporting ones - those who give quick one-liners and quirky mannerisms and get out before their presence begins to bore. Of the main cast, Tom Jane provides the only praiseworthy performance as he takes the role just seriously enough without outstaying his welcome skepticism.
Deceptive trailer aside, at its core The Tripper is a horror movie. And while it does a decent job of bringing blood and scares to the table, the main course seems tainted with a bit too much social and political parody and an abundance of psychedelic contamination and cocky humor. The film doesn't take itself seriously and makes no attempt at persuading the audience to do otherwise. This wouldn't be a problem if The Tripper focused on comedy, but at every turn we're faced with another seriously demented killing and only mild spurts of dark humor. The less you know about the Reagan administration the less likely you'll appreciate the political commentary and jokes that pepper the script. At times the horror elements work surprisingly well, and with a uniquely terrifying antagonist, The Tripper starts to look wholly original. However it's not long before that illusion wears off and the film falls into a damaging amount of clichés for a film not parodying thrillers.
In this medley of blood, hippies, and Ronald Reagan, psychedelic creativity reigns supreme, but those not accustomed to Arquette's bizarre humor and unconventional antics (or who don't despise the fortieth president quite as much) may find this trip easier to swallow with real drugs.
- Joel Massie