“The Pranks Just Got A Whole Lot Bigger” – Natural Born Pranksters (Film Review)

At a glance, Natural Born Pranksters could look like an imitation Jackass, or feature length Dirty Sanchez, or maybe even a copycat CKY2K — but no, Natural Born Pranksters is a reinvention for the YouTube generation.

With nearly 30 MILLION subscribers between them and more than 3 BILLION views, Roman Atwood, Vitaly Zdorovetskiy and Dennis Roady have a dedicated, consistent fan base most large scale TV or cinema production companies fantasise over. YouTube has arguably become the more common platform for creatives over TV, radio or cinema — and more lucrative to boot.

These self-made superstars have combined with the latter without restraint, nor supervision it seems and have produced a cinema sized viral that’s as restless and awkward to watch as it is satisfying. When the pranked realise they aren’t actually in the situation they thought they were, their relief is infectious. Chances are, however, if you’re not entertained by general, unscripted tomfoolery, nor interested in real-time, authentic reactions, Natural Born Pranksters could be a giant, unappealing leap in an unexciting direction. There are narrative movies, visual movies and arthouse. Then there are prank movies.

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The intro sequence is brief, high octane and fun, giving the audience a taster of what’s to come. Voice-overs of the trio follow as they narrate surprisingly well composed establishing shots of the American cities they hail from. It’s clear they want the audience to know that the movie is self-aware… What 4th wall? Then just like that, the cinematic blooper reel is under way.

Directed by the ultra-likeable Roman Atwood, and written by the 3 prankstars, the pranks are of expected viral quality — invasive, boundless and some are downright extreme, exactly what made them infamous. If you can make it through the first prank without averting your eyes in red-faced horror — you’re probably a prankster yourself.

The film seems to follow a recognisable formula. Big prank, small prank, big prank — entwined with clips lifted directly from their YouTube channels. The bigger, borderline merciless pranks on unwitting participants range from staged murders to alien abduction, and everything in between. The smaller skits that cushion the pranks feel designed, probably, to ease the audience back in. Then they go again… Relentless.

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There’s a reason however that YouTube videos are rarely longer than 20 minutes — things can get incredibly repetitive — and with no narrative to follow, the end game is never in sight. Ultimately, the film falls victim to it’s own ambition and slips into monotonousness in the effort to remain shocking, avant-garde and interesting. Through the quest to include more and more great content, it becomes a hindering overload. Cue the wisdom of the Jackass franchise, and the reasons behind releasing an accompanying film, or a 1.1.

The oppressive length did, however, allow them to indulge in numerous cameos. The stars of YouTube’s prank world appeared in the shapes of Jenna Marbles, Furious Pete, Peter Vass and more, including a shockingly out of place scene involving Jackass whipping boy, Dave England.

Collectively, their amiable personalities allow them the kind of leeway most of us non-pranking, mere mortals dream of. Their ability to avoid scuffles, hospital appointments and time handcuffed in the back seats of police cars is testament to their contagious Panglossian attitude. Roman’s life brand is ‘Smile More’ — and Natural Born Pranksters is a cumbersome yet valiant, first time effort at trying to get the non-YouTube world to do so. Remember though, don’t try this at home, or if you do, film it and put it ‘on-the-line’ for us to laugh at. Just be wary of it’s length.

2 / 5

Dir: Roman Atwood, Ben Pluimer

Scr: Roman Atwood, Dennis Roady, Vitaly Zdorovetskiy.

Cast: Roman Atwood, Dennis Roady, Vitaly Zdorovetskiy, Kevin Brueck, Dave England, Furious Pete

Prd: Roman Atwood, Gary Binkow, Andrew Reyes, Dennis Roady

DOP: Donny Anderson

Country: U.S

Year: 2016

Runtime: 90 minutes

Natural Born Pranksters is in cinemas now and will be available on DVD and VOD from 11th April 2016