The truTV series Impractical Jokers is the kind of reality show you stumble upon while surfing channels and sipping cheap wine in a hotel room. My girlfriend and I watch it every time we go on a trip, so we were looking forward to its cinematic adaptation. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite translate to the big screen, but it will ultimately leave you with a smile on your face.
For those unfamiliar with the show, it follows four lifelong friends (Joe, Murr, Sal and Q) who compete against each other in public prank challenges. The film’s amusing prologue recreates the quartet’s high school days in Staten Island circa 1992. When a scheme to sneak into a Paula Abdul concert goes wrong, the guys make enemies with the pop star. But when they acquire fame of their own, she recognizes them only as the pranksters on TV and invites them to a party she’s hosting in Miami. But she inadvertently gives them only three tickets, so the boys compete against each other during the road trip for the chance to hang out with Paula.
If only the Jokers put as much effort into the stunts as they did to crafting this story. They get off to a rough start with the first prank challenge, which involves reading a goofy eulogy to strangers. Like many of their pranks, what could’ve been artfully awkward is merely juvenile.
Like the Jackass crew, these guys do their best work when they prey on each other’s fears. In one of the film’s best setpieces, they have fun with Sal’s feline phobia by trapping him in a hotel room with a tiger. This is one of the few high-stakes scenes that feels worthy of the big screen.
Another standout sequence finds Q’s PowerPoint presentation at a social media convention interrupted by softcore porn scenes starring his parents. His embarrassment becomes our own. But the best part is the disarmingly sweet and sincere phone call he has with them afterward. A lesser film would’ve dwelled in the discomfort rather than pulling back the curtain to reveal the loving people behind the prank.
And that brings us to the ultimate strength of the film — its heart. Near the end, when Murr says, “I love you guys,” it sounds genuine. This intimate moment feels like one you can’t fully appreciate if you’re casually watching these guys on a hotel room TV. While the film may not have many moments of movie magic, ones like this make the trip to the theater worthwhile.