Legendary Oscar-winner Rita Moreno gives a performance unlike anything we’ve ever seen from her before in The Prank, director Maureen Bharoocha’s fun and twisted high school comedy thriller.
Ben (Connor Kalopsis) is an over-achiever. Desperate to get into the college his late-father would have wanted him to go to, he tries to do everything to perfection. His best friend Tanner (Ramona Young) is the opposite and barely tries at all. Despite their opposite personalities, the two are best friends and nearly inseparable. Ben’s goal of getting into his dream school lay in the hands of physics professor Mrs. Wheeler (Moreno), a Nurse Ratched-like teacher who strikes fear into every student. When Mrs. Wheeler threatens to fail the entire class because someone cheated on a test, Ben and Tanner decide to play a prank on Mrs. Wheeler that quickly gets out of control on social media and in everyone’s life.
The Prank starts off as a fun high school comedy about two best friends trying to figure out how to take down their devilish teacher. But Bharoocha slowly shifts the film from an easy-going high school comedy with a social commentary about social media rumors into a tense and twisty thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat.
Yet despite the changes in tone, The Prank never loses its fun. I had an absolute blast watching the film. The script is smart and tight, with snappy dialog, surprising turns, and unique characters. Whether it be the grumpy lunch lady (Kate Flannery), the chill, nonchalant janitor (Jonathan Kimmel), or the tenured principal (Keith David), every character in the film is interesting could warrant their own movie.
Kalopsis and Young are wonderful as Ben and Tanner. The two have pitch-perfect chemistry together and you feel the authenticity and depth of their friendship. What was also refreshing to see was that this movie strictly had Ben and Tanner and friends. There was never a moment where you felt any unrequited feelings between the two, something I feel we see far too often in movies with male/female best friends. These two are the best of friends, know everything about each other and their families, and support each other no matter what.
But the showcase comes from Rita Moreno, which might come as no surprise, but you have never seen Moreno like this before. Before the screening of the film at this year’s SXSW Film Festival, there was a video introduction by Moreno, who was unable to attend the screening. In the introduction, Moreno said that she wanted to play, “the meanest bitch of all-time” and boy, did she deliver. Donning a chilling bob haircut and black gloves while driving an old, black Cadillac that looks like a hearse, Mrs. Wheeler looks and acts like the living devil. Every word that comes out of Mrs. Wheeler’s mouth is like a dagger that could stab at any time. Every glare sends a chill down your spine. And it isn’t just students she’s ruthless too, she also terrifies the rest of the faculty. There are moments where you may start to feel bad for Mrs. Wheeler, especially when her life goes into turmoil following Ben and Tanner’s stunt, but then she’ll do something, like key the principal’s car for being her usual parking spot (which is actually his), that will remind you that this woman is pure evil. Moreno is excellent and you can see the enjoyment she has in playing such a wicked character.
Full of humor, twists, relevant social commentary, and led by a tremendous Rita Moreno performance, The Prank is the most fun I’ve had at the movies in 2022.
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