Your reaction to Natural Born Pranksters will depend entirely on your opinion towards what can be the most tiresome form of comedy, the practical joke.
Practical jokers are, for the most part, a definite type of person. They tend to be alpha males and females or aspirant alpha males and females using the belittling of others to make themselves seem bigger through the nebulous use of “humour”. What could be described as bullies, in actual fact. Picking on people with who have no recourse. Behaving like arseholes and then just shouting “joke!”. There is nothing good natured about it.
The folks in this film seem no different. Roman Atwood, Dennis Roady & Vitaly Zdorovetskiy are YouTube stars with videos of their pranks reaching viewing figures in the several millions. The problem with practical jokes is that it is the generally pranksters themselves who find their efforts the most funny – to put them successfully on video, or into a movie, it is vitally important that we the audience are included in on the joke. And this movie fails spectacularly.
Prankster videos can work. For a practical joke to work effectively, the reaction of person being pranked is literally the most important factor for an audience watching it third hand. Second to that is the concept or set-up. When the two marry the effect can be magical, especially when accidental comic timing created by improvisational nature of the event is created. The reason I’ve given this an extra half star is because it made me laugh. Twice. Unfortunately for a 90 minute movie which is ostensibly a comedy, that really isn’t enough.
What we have with Natural Born Pranksters is Roman Atwood, Dennis Roady and Vitaly Zdorovetskiy combining forces to create some more expensive and involved pranks than they normally do on their own on YouTube channels. And that’s it. They are strung together with no real connection. And it’s interesting that a lot of the best bits are quicky clips already freely available on YouTube and not made for the movie.
Instead of focusing on the reactions of the people being pranked, we keep cutting back to the “stars” cackling away. Laughing at their own cleverness. Laughing at how they are in charge. It’s quite sickening and pointless. We don’t want to see their reactions to something we already know they think is funny. We want to see the people who are being pranked.
Essentially the disparate collection of clips is just a bunch of stuff we could have already seen on YouTube. It’s nothing new.
It would have been more interesting to see a big prank or trick – the set-up, the people involved, the process, rehearsal try-outs, using the 90 minutes to do something fascinating and longform as well as funny. To actually make a movie prank. In fact the sort of thing which Derren Brown does so brilliantly; expensive feature length programmes which use the elements of pranking to create something really special – the end of the world, a crashing aeroplane. All the time with people who long ago volunteered but are unaware. That kind of thing. It wouldn’t take much to play that sort of idea for laughs.
They touch on this idea with a prank where a man is being hired by someone who he quickly discovers is apparently a murdering crime boss. But just as it gets interesting, the prank is over.
Natural Born Pranksters is a compilation and not really a movie. It’s too episodic, there’s not enough cohesion. It’s a missed opportunity.
An alien abduction trick is the best carried out in the whole 90 minutes because we don’t see the pranksters. It’s very well set up and the reaction of the lady in the car to what she sees happening as a woman is levitated into a spaceship above is perfect. When the prank is revealed her reaction gets even better. She is the star of the movie, and it would have been brilliant to see a longer form version of something like this.
There are some horribly foul set-pieces. It’s not really necessary to see a man actually defecate onto a canvas to know that it’s real poo they are painting with – the gagging faces of the participants is really enough. That’s where it stops being practical jokes and becomes closer in nature to Jackass.
A human canonball joke where one of the team appears to explode in a cloud of entrails is disgusting but works because the the timing and crowd reaction is funny – though they then needlessly over egg the pudding.
Natural Born Pranksters comes out on DVD and On Demand on 11th April. You would be better off tracking down their clips on YouTube for free.