The Jokesters (Movie Review)

The Jokesters (Movie Review)
6 10

PLOT: A foursome of popular internet jokesters, dubbed the Prank Masters, gets far more than they bargained for when a practical gag at a friend's wedding fatally backfires.

REVIEW: With a handful of shorts surrounding his 2007 debut feature, THE DISAPPEARANCE OF JENNA MATHESON, director AJ Wedding is finally back with his somewhat underwhelming sophomore effort THE JOKESTERS - at times a drolly clever found-footage conceit that starts fast but eventually flames out with a whimper. The first half hour is a great setup that quickly establishes a break-neck comedic rhythm and plausibly founded friendship that we can't help but relate to in some way. But when you claim to be a horror-comedy and your initial dash of horrific violence torpidly enters frame at the 58 minute mark, in "feature" that skimpily crawls to all of 74 minutes before running credits no less, yeah man, you've got problems. It's a real shame, as I not only enjoyed the onscreen chemistry of the four main actors, but as far as the ad nauseam home-movie-camera-horror angle is concerned, I thought this one banked a dare I say semi-original way of approaching it. The payoff however? Not quite worth the investment!

Great pace and energy ignite THE JOKESTERS with an outrageous montage of Nick, Andrew, Chris and Ethan - a friendly foursome and collective internet sensation known as Prank Masters - as they run a whole gamut of perverse and puerile practical pranks. You know how it goes, the more asinine, the higher the view-count. By that measure, these dudes are quite the hit. In one video they superglue Chris to the seat of his rally car, unbeknownst to him until the race is over. In another they scare the piss out of Ethan's fiancé Gabby by rigging a phony ghost-doll extruding from the TV set while she sleeps. She awakes, wails in horror, while the dudes erupt with laughter. Same goes for when they cover Nick's drunkenly passed out body with a cardboard box, simulating a coffin, so that he freaks the f*ck out upon waking to the false realization he's been buried alive. This is the type of juvenilia the Prank Masters are known and celebrated for. However, with Ethan and Gabby's wedding imminent, it's time to up the ante and devise a show-stopping gag of epic proportions.

So what's the plan? Peep it. While enjoying a secluded honeymoon in a wooded cabin out in the country, Ethan and Gabby get the surprise scare of a lifetime. Nick, Chris and Andrew sneak up on the cozy newlyweds at night and gift them with the taunt of a stalk-and-slash treatment. That is, they don half-faced Skeletor-masks over black balaclavas and terrorize the couple by climbing on the roof, making a ton of noise, then retreating into the darkness to amusingly record Ethan's reaction when he comes roving out the front-door in his underwear with a shotgun. Priceless right? Wrong. After the real threat of being blown away by their best friend, the remaining jokesters are forced to tip their hand and expose their dastardly deceit. In particular it's Nick who must show the greatest contrition, as it was his idea to execute this elaborate hoax to begin with. Of course, Ethan and Gabby are none too pleased by this point...and soon a predictable retaliation of sorts follows suit.

Unfortunately, this is where the flick derails a bit. After such an infectious, playful energy and ball-busting sense of humor, the tonal inversion of the last 20 minutes or so really does feel unwarranted and out of place. Not only does the second cabin-in-the-woods prank feel inevitable, it drags on too long and kills the pace and kinetic vibe imbued in the first half of the film. Moreover, and I won't spoil too much here, but the deadly denouement in the film feels, from a character standpoint, somewhat unearned. I didn't really buy the why behind the sudden shift into the horrific. Looking back, there were subtle hints and foreshadows I suppose, but still, they didn't register to a convincing enough degree to feel believable in the end. Part of that has to do with how long it takes to finally arrive at such a critical plot-turn, and even more to do with how paltry the carnage is once finally incurred. Sure there's a shot or two of commensurate horror movie gore (shown in the trailer mind you), but for a movie like this, it's not quite enough to adequately balance the humor of the preceding hour of runtime.

Parsed simply, as a comedy I can recommend THE JOKESTERS, but as a horror flick, I cannot. That leaves me split down the middle, with a forward-looking caveat of really wanting to see what AJ Wedding and company do next. I just read that THE JOKESTERS 2 is in development, and if that's indeed the case, I'd urge AJ and the boys to push the horror envelop much farther next go around. Keep the prank-based humor - however crude, crass and coarse it may seem to some - and simply up the terror quotient to equal measure. By doing this I think a far greater balance between horror and comedy would make for an overall more satisfying movie. As it is, the horror is sorely lacking, despite having an ever-entertaining, supercharged pace and unique reason for constantly rolling a home-video camera (internet prank channel) to begin with. Let's go boys...get to the horror sooner, and give it to us more amply come sequel time.

Extra Tidbit: THE JOKESTERS is hits VOD on July 21st.



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