Friday, April 15, 2016

Natural Born Pranksters Delivers Some Laughs, But Fails in Production Quality [Guest Poster: Julia]

Everyone loves a good prank video, right? Sometimes it’s nice to sit down and watch a bunch of pointless pranks online as free entertainment. Ever wonder what would happen if some of the Internet’s most popular pranksters decided to take their jokes to the next level by making a movie? If you answered yes, then Natural Born Pranksters is the movie for you.


Three of YouTube’s most viral pranksters, Roman Atwood, Dennis Roady, and Vitaly Zdorovetskiy, teamed up to create what they thought would be an epic prank movie. The new collection of pranks crosses the line several times as they target innocent people with harmful tricks. For example, the guys set up a young African American woman to believe that she is being arrested for a fake robbery during a fake film shoot. The situation is set up at a convenience store, where the woman meets the “film crew,” who are played by the pranksters. They proceed to explain her role and what she has to do. When they yell action, she goes through with the fake robbery, thinking she’s being recorded for a movie. The guys run out of the store to hide as they send in two fake cops. The woman is beside herself as she is “arrested” for a fake crime. She gets extremely worked up as she tries to explain to the police that the robbery was fake and part of a movie. With the crew nowhere in sight, the cops handcuff her and bring her outside. Right before they put her in the police car, the pranksters jump out of hiding and tell her she was being pranked.

This prank should have ended way before it actually did. The poor woman was clearly in emotional distress over the situation. It was wrong to keep it going when they could see that the reaction was not quite as expected. Or, maybe the joke was to get her to believe she was going to be arrested. If the latter is the case, then the pranksters are very cruel people.

The constant of the film was that almost every prank was malicious. As a viewer, I thought that the pranks were created to emotionally and mentally harm the victims. Some of the victims were clearly innocent bystanders that happened to be in the wrong place and the right time. Others were obviously set up by friends, which was not very transparent or clarified at any point in the film. The reactions to the pranks did seem genuine, so I don’t believe the pranks were fake. It’s good that it appeared to not be fake, but it would have been good to see some more behind the scenes footage to confirm how authentic the film actually is.

The pranks weren’t very funny because they were meant to harm people. There were only two or three pranks that I thought were worth laughing at over the course of the 90 minute film, and I think the cruel intentions were very off-putting. Even though the pranksters were trying to get a good laugh out of everyone, they didn’t seem to care about right or wrong. They couldn’t seem to tell when a prank had gone too far and should have been stopped, which also stunted the humor.


The most disappointing part of Natural Born Pranksters is the terrible filmmaking. I can’t even point to any positives in the production — everything was poorly done, including the structure of the film, layout of the footage, and the setup of each prank. The structure of the film didn’t make sense, as each scene was so independent of the others that there was no flow between setups. There was no introduction to each premise or transitions between pranks, making it hard to watch and follow, as nothing was explained.

Occasionally, there would be a short YouTube clip of a prank that previously went viral to separate scenes. This was a poor decision for two reasons; first, there was no transparency in telling the audience that the clips were not new material and were previously posted online. I figured it out during the second of these clips by catching a glimpse of a faint watermark on the corner of the screen of the prankster’s YouTube channel logo. The watermarks were so hard to see that they could easily have been missed, and I’m sure that some viewers thought these were new pranks when they were probably fillers due to lack of new material.

The editing was also very choppy throughout the film, leading to a rough layout. Some of the pranks were shot on several cameras to get multiple angles, which were not put together well in the final product. Also, the audience is not always clued into what will happen with each prank ahead of time – we don’t even know what the goals of the pranks are, which makes most of the pranks useless and not funny. Part of the fun of watching pranks is being in on the joke ahead of time. It’s funnier when you are anticipating what’s about to happen. Some of the pranks were introduced and gave some background, while others weren’t. The inconsistency truly brought this film down quite a bit.


It’s hard to not compare Natural Born Pranksters to the infamous Jack*** series. Natural Born Pranksters appears to try and emulate the same formula, but doesn’t have the same success. Jack*** worked well for many years because the cast focused their pranks and jokes on each other more than on innocent people. The intent of their jokes was to make each other laugh by one-upping the last person’s prank, and they generally harmed themselves rather than others. They were also the stars of their show and movies. Each cast member had a great personality that played out well on screen, allowing the viewers get to know each person and their prank styles.

Natural Born Pranksters is the opposite. They hardly prank themselves and choose to prey on unsuspecting bystanders. The biggest problem is that the pranksters aren’t the stars of the movie. They don’t have nearly as much screen time as their pranking victims, and by making random people the butt of the joke, they become the stars instead of the pranksters. There isn’t a ton of footage of the pranksters together either. Without seeing them interact, it was hard to tell how well the team worked together.

Jack*** is also superior due to its format: every prank was introduced and given a name before it was committed. This helped the audience keep track of everything that was happening. The cast would also tell the audience what would happen ahead of time to increase anticipation, while Natural Born Pranksters doesn’t do either of these things.


Unfortunately, professional critics have yet to publish their official reports on Natural Born Pranksters — more than likely due to the film not having a traditional theater release. The film was in select theaters for one day on April 1, 2016, and also went directly to digital download and DVD the same day. It is digitally available for rental and purchase on iTunes, Amazon, VUDU, Google Play, CinemaNow, Fandango Now, Playstation Network, Shopify, Verizon Fios, and XBOX Live.

However, there are many sites that have audience reviews of the film. As of April 15, 1,671 combined IMDB user ratings had rated Natural Born Pranksters 3.8 out of 10 stars. Fan ratings on Fandango show that 74 combined ratings totaled 4.5 out of 5 stars. Google Play currently has the most user reviews out of the traditional websites (not including iTunes). They combined 2,574 ratings for a 4.6 out of 5 stars. The VUDU Community gave the film 3.8 out of 5 stars, but the site doesn’t specify how many users had rated the film.

At the end of its first weekend in digital release, the film had soared to the second-most rented movie on iTunes, finishing behind Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It was also the No. 1 comedy on iTunes for its first week. Now in its second week on the charts, Natural Born Pranksters has fallen all the way down to No. 40 on the iTunes charts. However, it does have positive customer reviews: it is currently rated 4.6 out of 5 stars by 7,045 combined user ratings.

It’s interesting that most of the user reviews are positive considering how bad the film actually is. I’m absolutely certain that the critic reviews won’t be as nice, and it will also be interesting to track how well the film sells considering it hasn’t taken the traditional route. The numbers for digital, DVD, and in-theater sales were not publicly available as of April 15. Check back soon for the results!


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