‘The Prank’ Movie Review [SXSW 2022]: Rita Moreno Dark Comedy Lacks Bite

The Prank presents two very different comedies over the course of its runtime. Maureen Bharoocha directs a screenplay written by Rebecca Flinn-White and Zak White. They have the wildly talented Rita Moreno onboard, but the material limits what she could truly bring to a a campy dark comedy.

‘The Prank’ displays a plot for revenge going horribly wrong

'The Prank' Connor Kalopsis as Ben and Rita Moreno as Mrs. Wheeler wearing black gloves and a big, black ball on a swinging pendulum in front of his face
L-R: Connor Kalopsis as Ben and Rita Moreno as Mrs. Wheeler | Mathew Rudenberg/SXSW

The Prank follows high-schooler Ben (Connor Kalopsis) and his best friend, Tanner (Ramona Young). They couldn’t be more different from one another, as they have their priorities entirely different. School doesn’t drive Tanner, but Ben is an incredibly hard-worker with an academic goal of getting into the same university that his dead father went to.

However, Ben’s goal is all in the hands of his cruel physics teacher, Mrs. Wheeler (Moreno). She has a putrid reputation of torturing her students. Mrs. Wheeler decides to fail the entire class on their midterms, unless a student who cheated steps forward. As a result, Ben and Tanner decide to frame her for the murder of a missing student on social media.

Director Maureen Bharoocha tackles the pressures of high school

High school is a lot of pressure for many people. However, some students simply float through it, with ambitions outside of the classroom. Ben and Tanner certainly display that dichotomy. This is very much reflected in their home lives, as well. These future aspirations ultimately drive The Prank to its dark comedic direction.

Every high school has their version of Mrs. Wheeler, albeit a bit less over-the-top. She’s a harsh, stern teacher who always takes things a bit too far. Mrs. Wheeler even power checks the principal and the faculty, but Ben and Tanner take that power away from her for the first time in her career. As a result, high school becomes a tense setting for all those involved, but this time, for the framing of a murder.

The Prank plays its adults off as rather easy to convince. Tanner explains that, “boomers are gullible.” They live in a small town and most people had Mrs. Wheeler as a teacher, but it’s clear that nobody enjoyed it. Everybody has a horrible story involving her that stuck with them. However, Flinn-White and White’s screenplay taps into the idea that teachers are people outside of the classroom, which students often forget, for better or worse.

‘The Prank’ fails to marry high school comedy with its horror elements

Ben and Tanner’s anonymous accusations of Mrs. Wheeler are more an act of revenge than a prank. However, the film continues to show the most rotten characteristics of the teacher, intending for the audience to root for its leads right out of the gate. However, further details continue to unfold, making the audience question whether it’s correct to do so.

Moreno is an amusing casting choice as a power-tripping physics teacher. She gets the opportunity to show another side of her talents, although the screenplay restrains some of her best bits and contains them toward the end of the movie. However, Young also delivers a solid performance as Tanner, often carrying the film until Moreno gets the spotlight.

The first half of The Prank is a high school comedy reminiscent of superior movies, such as Booksmart. It gets off to a rather slow start without much of a hook to engage the audience in this story. However, the second half of The Prank is much more captivating. It becomes a substantially campier dark comedy that you’ll wish embraced this side of itself sooner.

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