‘The Prank’ SXSW Movie Review – Deadline

If you go to see this, The Prank‘s on you.

Unspeakably lame in every department — writing, directing, acting and intent — this immature little goof on a high school murder mystery is notable only for the presence of Rita Moreno, looking and sounding some twenty years younger than her actual 90 as a sinister school teacher who should have retired and abandoned her wicked ways while she was still ahead. Absurdly plotted and handicapped by two massively unappealing lead teen characters, this is a very unlikely entry into any film festival, but it nonetheless did debut at South by Southwest.


None of Maureen Bharoocha’s three previous films over the past seven years—Fatal Flip, I Am Watching You and the decently reviewed Golden Arm—Has served to put her firmly on the map, and matters are not bound to change due to the dim-witted plot, lame dialogue and thoroughly obnoxious characters one is forced to tolerate in the screenplay by Rebecca Flinn-White and Zak White.

On the most fundamental levels of credibility, the script is just silly and in no way passes muster. Moreno’s Mrs. Wheeler, a stern physics teacher who has ruled the roost for 40 years, one day abruptly announces that, as she has detected a cheater in her class, none of her twenty AP students will be passed unless the miscreant is found. But serious scholar Ben (Connor Kalopsis) barely has time to work up a fury about this before his best bud Mei (Ramona Young) comes out with a charge that Mrs. Wheeler herself has murdered a student.

What follows from these developments makes no sense whatsoever in any real world or legal context, but nor does it hold water or prove intriguing even in a thoroughly make-believe setting — it’s just silly beyond words. Classes seem to just carry on as if nothing much has happened but then, after some TV coverage, Mrs. Wheeler is abruptly cuffed and hauled off.

Even at this early stage, nothing here seems proper or logical here from a legal angle – the school principal (Keith David) is unaccountably nonchalant, and the plotting makes no sense. Unfortunately, attention continues to focus mainly on the increasingly annoying Ben and Mei, the latter of whom continues to call the former “bro” every time she opens her mouth as they proceed to snoop around Mrs. Wheeler’s ornate Southern California mansion. That they eventually find someone’s head in a jar is just one example of how silly and cockamamie the whole enterprise becomes.

No one here is appealing or interesting to be around, and not in recent memory has any crime story been this removed from reality; you just stare and draw a blank about what the filmmakers imagined an audience might find appealing about such a yarn. It is pleasing to see Moreno looking so good, sounding so sharp and playing a role of some substance after nine decades, but one can only hope she can rebound with something more appealing and substantial after this prankish little embarrassment.

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