I wasn’t going to watch Impractical Jokers: The Movie. I actually intentionally skipped it during its short-lived theatrical run. I have not seen the show. I never plan on seeing the show. The extent of my knowledge is that they have an inexplicably popular prank show on television that I constantly mix up with Ridiculousness due to their shared fan base. But there’s a quarantine going on, my options are limited, and the film was 99 cents on iTunes. So I figured, what’s the worst that can happen? I may as well give these pranksters a shot. Such words will live in infamy alongside “An iceberg couldn’t sink this ship,” “Filling this balloon with hydrogen is safe,” and “We don’t need an exit strategy.” Not only is Impractical Jokers one of the worst films of the year, I am willing to take it a few steps further. It is the worst thing to happen to me personally during the pandemic (I won’t speak on the behalf of the tens of thousands dead). The four Impractical Jokers should be placed in Guantanamo Bay for acts of terrorism. And this film, more so than any other in history, including Birth of a Nation and Triumph of the Will, should have every known existing copy taken out and burned, and every digital copy plagued with a computer-destroying virus. Better to lose everything on your laptop than to sit through this film’s 90-minute runtime.
Right, so the “plot,” in as much as this film has one. Once upon a time, four Staten Island losers – Brian “Q” Quinn, Joe Gatto, James “Murr” Murray, and Sal Vulcano – snuck into a Paula Abdul concert and ruined the show through a series of pranks. 25 years later, as the boys enjoy their newfound celebrity, they learn that Abdul not only doesn’t recognize them from their childhood days (despite the fact that they look exactly the same due to the piss-poor attempt to make forty-something assh*les look like high schoolers), but is also a huge fan, and wants them to party with her in Miami. Unfortunately, she only gives them three tickets instead of four. Rather than call her up and ask for a fourth ticket (after all, she’s a huge fan, and would clearly want all four to attend her event), the Impractical Jokers come up with a far simpler solution: the four of them will drive down to Miami together and engage in a series of pranks on innocent bystanders. Whoever tricks the rubes gets a ticket. Whoever fails stays back at the hotel. And so begins a reverse-Deliverance situation, where instead a bunch of inbred monsters enter the real world and wreak havoc on otherwise-unsuspecting citizens, in the most vile series of misadventures I’ve ever seen.
There’s a famous Pete Davidson quote about Staten Island that reads “They all suck. It’s a terrible borough, filled with terrible people. F*ck them.” While I don’t necessarily want to get involved with bashing an entire city based on where they live (Davidson gets a pass because it’s his hometown), I find it hard to disagree if Quinn, Vulcano, Gatto, and Murray are offered up not only as examples of the average Staten Island male, but are hailed as hometown heroes. I mean, the opening of the film is the town worshipping their dumbass high school selves. I’d pass that off as a self-deprecating joke on the film’s part, but Staten Island itself has praised them as upstanding examples of Staten Island pride. It’s kind of amazing – I’ve never seen four people who I instinctively hate on site, but from the moment we are introduced to these “lovable goofballs,” I have an innate reaction that most people currently have when they see a political figure with a smug face that they despise. In their introduction, this group makes it clear that they are four douchebags competing to see who can be the biggest douchebag, complete with racist jokes, smarmy egotistical delusions of grandeur, and a vile contempt for the rest of humanity. I was willing to write this off after the opening as “Well, they’re supposed to be high schoolers, and high schoolers are little sh*ts.” But when the film reaches the present, they continue to act on their worst impulses, berating and belittling those around them for the sake of a joke only they find funny. Googling them briefly to prepare for this review tells me that the four of them are “improvisational comedians,” which is perhaps the most heinous sentence I have ever read, and yet explains so much.
However, while their personalities are irritating enough, what really offends me is the so-called “pranks” they engage in. It’s pretty well-stated that prank comedy is the lowest form of comedy, as it is mainly a tool to get the rest of society to laugh at one or two individuals by embarrassing them on a mass scale, but there’s at least a set up to make this work. Sacha Baron Cohen has turned the format into a weapon for social change by outing racists on both minor and massive scales. And most “hidden camera” shows involve good-hearted goofs that will brighten the recipient’s day, so everyone can share a big laugh as a whole. Not so with the Impractical Jokers. If the film is to be believed, the entire point of the humor is to find otherwise good-hearted people and f*ck with them relentlessly until they cry, for the amusement of themselves. Take, for example, their first “prank” – portraying a rude mall Santa who berates little kids until they cry and falls asleep while they talk to him. The quartet finds this hilarious – the children are very clearly traumatized. Later, the group “playfully” pranks Sal by locking him in a room with a tiger, which he’s deathly afraid of. It’s a bit that’s supposed to be funny, and yet Vulcano actively starts crying and declaring “I don’t find this funny! Please let me out!” while his friends howl with laughter. Maybe it’s part of the act, but the scripted scenes prove Vulcano’s not that good an actor.
Furthermore, the pranks clearly don’t work, as the only people who can actively experience the pranks are the home audience or the Jokers themselves. One of their bits involves Murph giving a presentation in front of college students while clips of “amateur porn” starring his parents plays behind him. The problem is the audience doesn’t know that these are Murph’s parents…so where’s the joke? If the people being pranked can’t understand what the joke is, then it’s not a “prank” and more of a “let’s f*ck with these normies” situation.” Occasionally, the pranks manage to provide a chuckle – the Bat Boy sketch elicited a smile, and I liked the idea of trying to elicit roadside assistance in the deep South while wearing a sparkling thong (that said, it’s nothing Bruno hasn’t done better). But as a whole, the film makes it clear that the participants are receiving no joy in these shenanigans, due to their mean-spirited and unfunny nature, and it ultimately leaves the Impractical Jokers looking not as harmless mischief-makers, but as agents of chaos spreading evil and discord everywhere they go. After all, if the people involved aren’t having a good time, why should we take pleasure in their misfortune?
It’s also worth noting that the film’s attempt to have a story is loose even by the friendliest standards. And I don’t mean “loose” in the same way as Easy Rider or Borat (the latter of which could have been an inspiration if these four had an inkling of talent or charisma. I mean that the series of events setting the film in motion is so nonsensical and so wobbly that it looks to fall apart at a moment’s notice. I mean, the entire premise, if you can call it that, operates under the notion that the group needs to compete in “hidden camera challenges” across the country to determine who gets the three tickets to Paula Abdul’s penthouse party in Miami. They explain this to the audience as if it is the most common and most natural solution to this situation, and also present this as if it is a common problem for the average U.S. citizen. I’m fairly certain the group (and fellow writer/director Chris Henley, who inexplicably wrote the terrific The Other Guys alongside most of Will Ferrell’s worst films, and is married to Brooke Shields because this is an unjust universe) realize how unbelievably dumb this plot is, because about halfway through the film they admit to growing bored with the premise and criticize it (yet never admit to its stupidity) and contemplate giving up and moving on. Alas, they do not follow through, as they opt instead to double down on this setup and subjecting us to forty more minutes of unrelenting torture. The scenario is even more bizarre as it establishes a world where Paula Abdul is still a major superstar, and also assumes that she is a worthwhile actress. To be fair, she does turn in a better performance than any of the leads, and I laughed harder at her delivery of the line “I run this town! Not the cartel, not the Yakuza, me!” than I did at any of the pranks the Jokers pull off. But if the film has to subject us to 90 minutes of assh*lery just to make this line kind of work, then I’m not sure it’s even worth it.
As a whole, I judge Impractical Jokers: The Movie much in the same way I judge their pranks. Did I chuckle once or twice? Perhaps. But as a whole, was I disgusted at the contempt for my fellow humans, the degradation of the artform, and the glorification of stupidity and evil? You bet your sweet ass I was. I wish I could erase Impractical Jokers from my memory. Or better yet, maybe it’s better that I remember. I want to feel this anger in the future, should the quartet ever come to my hometown. I’ve got a few words I’d like to say to them should I ever be involved in one of their pranks. Maybe I’ll even utter the first funny thing on their show. Until then, I hope that these four live good, long lives. It’ll make their eternal damnation to Hell all the more enjoyable for the rest of us. It will be the ultimate prank.
Impractical Jokers: The Movie is currently streaming on HBO Max. Honestly, it’s not worth it