Prankster (2023)

Rating: D

Dir: George O’Barts
Star: Dylan Garcia, Bourke Floyd, Nex, Gabby D. Barbosa

I am probably not the target audience for this, having a very low tolerance for “pranks” or those who carry them out. I am firmly with the person who shot a YouTube prankster in Virginia early this month, and feel any such actions should be entirely legal. The sole exception I make is for the Jackass-style approach, where the perpetrators are also the victims. Otherwise? You’re not a comedian, you’re a malicious piece of shit. So it’s likely not too surprising that I failed to warm to this. To be honest, I only watched it after realizing (hat-tip to Hal) it was an Arizona production. Not that you’d notice: there’s absolutely zero local flavour.

The great bulk of it takes place in the offices of Biggs Cable, out on the service floor where harried customer reps handle customers. Among the, are Johnny Mendoza (Garcia) and his long-time friend, Conner (Floyd). They have plans to move up in the world, and are about to submit to management a business proposal they’ve been working on. However, Conner plans to submit it as his work. At this point, Johnny’s imaginary childhood friend shows up, Bobo (Nex). He’s a clown with a fondness for practical jokes, and it’s not long before Johnny’s co-workers, but mostly Conner, are drenched in garbage, water, coffee, copier toner (top), etc. Hilarious, huh? It’s Johnny who gets the blame, naturally, and tempers start to rise around the call centre.

If you’re ahead of the plot – and, to be honest, having a pulse will likely qualify you there – you’ll be able to predict this will eventually lead to Conner seeing the error of his ways, and giving Johnny the credit he deserves. Because nothing is more effective at making a person change their mind and become a good person, than making them the butt of cruel, potentially dangerous jokes! Sorry, I’m just not buying into that at all. Throw in clumsy attempts at social commentary (the company is racist! There’s a sexist co-worker!) along with an annoying, inappropriate soundtrack, and I found myself rolling my eyes more often than nodding in sympathy. In addition, the dialogue never feels like it was anything other than written on a page. I’ve worked in a place very like Biggs Cable. I know how employees speak. This ain’t it.

The concept of an imaginary friend being cruel is not a new one. Most memorably, we have Drop Dead Fred, in which Rik Mayall made Phoebe Cates’s life hell. However, that played into the horrific elements, rather than trying to turn the friend into some kind of noble psychotherapist (or perhaps, psycho therapist), making people better through trauma. As Hal said in his review, “If all the filmmakers I know in Phoenix were to make a feature about an imaginary friend… only O’Barts would plump for a prankster comedy.” I think there’s likely very good reason for most people choosing to go in other directions. Sometimes the road less travelled should be left that way.