We all love a good practical joke. Even our earliest scholars and authors have recounted tales of playful tomfoolery. The art of pranking has become much more prevalent since methods of mass-communication have evolved. Matter of fact, one of the first pony express telegraphs ever sent was a simple note: “Suck It.” It was this act that spawned the phrase “Don’t shoot the messenger.” Maybe.
In more recent times, the great Orson Welles sent widespread panic to the whole nation with his iconic War of the Worlds radio broadcast. Despite being fooled millions of ways and millions of times, we still fall susceptible to a good prank from time to time. We now have entire shows and movies dedicated to just the act of the practical joke. In the spirit of April Fools, we have decided to put together a list of some of our favorite pranks, practical jokes, mischief, and other assorted hijinks from some of our favorite movies.
Home Alone – Nail in the Foot
Where to begin here? Home Alone is chock full of pranks. Actually, the entire series depends on them. Once we accept the fact that an eight year old boy was stranded by his family, left alone in their gigantic house, and finds himself potential victim to a bumbling tag team of burglars, we get right to the heart of humor in this classic.
Child neglect is funny.
So, like any eight year old faced with the threat of home invasion, he cleverly crafts a series of traps for the burglars. Just as we know, the resulting plan is always one step ahead of the “Wet Bandits” and it always ends in horrific pain for the antagonists. But, to pick a favorite is difficult. We have all had burns, knocks to the head, slips on ice, but how many of you have had a nail through the foot? Kevin, in his uncanny knack for finding obscure resources and setting professional-grade traps, has layered the basement steps with a fresh coat of tar. One of these tar-covered steps has a shingle with nail sticking straight up through it. This same tar has removed Wet Bandit Marv’s shoes and socks from him before he stumbles upon it. The scene itself shows Marv’s foot ever so slowly descending onto the nail, and the delayed, yet ever so appropriate scream of misery is well delivered. One would think this would be enough for the ambitious bandit, but he continues forward into the brink. And what of our overall story of child abandonment? I’m sure everything worked out just fine.
Jackass – Terrorist Prank
Terrorism is bad. Supposed or imagined terrorism is equally bad. Maybe worse. So why not have some fun with it? The skaters-turned-MTV-heroes determined this in their second full-length movie Jackass 2. Johnny Knoxville and company are no strangers to practical jokes and along with stunts it is the entire premise of the whole Jackass franchise. Jackass has numerous moments of hilarity for the jackass in all of us, but the “Terrorist Prank” stands out as one of the best.
The sucker in this prank is Jackass’s own Ehren McGhehey. Somehow, the other Jackass alums convinced Ehren to don a turban and a paste-on beard of mysterious origin to play a prank on a taxi driver heading to the airport. All is well for Ehren; he is ready for the action. Unknown to him, Knoxville and the other Jackass pranksters have enlisted Jay Chandrasekhar (of Broken Lizard fame) to pose as the taxi driver. Ehren enters the cab, spouting supposed terrorist threats, igniting the patriotism (or paranoia) of the cabby, and gets held hostage in the trunk of the cab. Evasive driving and fake shots ultimately shake him, and when it all seems to be too much, he is released from the trunk and informed that it was all a prank.
Yay! Everything is good. Only one problem though. The Jackasses then inform Ehren that his paste-on beard is made up of all of their pubic hair. Insult to injury. A prank, in a prank, in a prank. This, my friends, is prank Inception, and the Jackass crew pull it off perfectly.
Blazing Saddles – “Candygram for Mongo”
What hasn’t Mel Brooks done? He has lampooned popular culture with his own brand of irreverence since the early 1980’s. His movies rank with Monty Python for most quotable lines of all time. His most controversial and most popular film was Blazing Saddles, a racial spin on the Old West cowboy movies. Although this particular Brooks film has plenty of jokes and quotables, one scene in particular comes to mind in regards to practical jokes.
As simplistic as a prank it was, it means much more. Just as Bugs Bunny was ostracized from the mainstream in the old Warner Brothers cartoons, so was Sherriff Bart. Finding himself on the outskirts of acceptance, he lashes back in his own humorous ways. When faced with the giant oaf called Mongo, Bart resorts to the oldest of old tricks; the exploding package. How many times have we seen this in the old cartoons? Burt’s exit before the big bang was even to the Warner Bros. theme. A brilliant use of parody by Brooks that somehow still showcased the underlying social issues the movie worked to address. Simple and beautiful, this is pranking at its tried and true best.
Funny Games – Well, the funny games
Lets get one thing straight; home invasion is no laughing matter. It’s the stuff nightmares are made of. At least one horror movie is released per year that deals with just this subject. Why do the studios feel that this over-played model will continue to attract audiences? It’s fucking scary. That’s why. Critically applauded director Michael Haneke understands this and penned one of the most horrifying home invasion stories ever. This film pranks us, the viewer, at every turn. The setup is straightforward (and cliché) enough. A young couple arrives at their lake house (who has one of those?) and an equally young pair of miscreants slowly takes hold of their lives. As they begin their series of torture, referred to lovingly as “games”, they constantly fool their victims into thinking safety is just one step away. They even pander to the audience at times, breaking the fourth wall and asking what we expect, what sensibilities of our own have been “gamed” with.
In the one fleeting moment of hope in this movie, the delinquents finally seem to have left the broken and battered family alone. Despite severe physical and emotional distress, it seems like this movie will end like all the others, with a somewhat happy ending. Not so fast! Just as Haneke has toyed with our sensibilities the entire movie, he continues by sending the killers back one last time. Just as I said, we expect a happy ending, and we are usually treated to such an ending albeit after the immense pain and loss this genre of movie usually provides. SPOILER ALERT: Haneke gives us no such relief. The bad guys win. The ending is a haunting reminder that just because this is ultimately “only a movie,” the ending also does not have to follow what we expect as an audience. Haneke has pranked us, ever so masterfully, just as the numerous pranks in the movie foreshadowed. Bravo, Mr. Haneke, I will certainly sleep well tonight. *puts knife under pillow*
Out Cold – Drunk Car Spin
I will be honest with you. I enjoyed this movie far more than I should have. It may have to do with the fact that Comedy Central and Starz played it on a loop from 2002-2018. It is an attractive premise, spending your life skiing, snowboarding, and drinking in Alaska. I already spend most of my time doing exactly that! Only difference is I do not ski or snowboard and have never set foot in Alaska. Oh, I digress. Anyway, this movie has it moments. There are plenty of the “zany” moments that fuel most comedies of our times and the cast is well suited to deliver the “zaniness.” It has Zack Galifianakis well before anyone knew him from the never-ending Hangover movies and that interview with the President. Hey, it even has that one London guy that I think was in Mallrats!
Anyway, despite the dizzying “which London” effect, this movie also had an exceptionally good prank jammed in with all the other “zany” jokes. So, our “Between Two Ferns” friend Galifianakis likes to party in this movie. He finds himself passed-out one night after exactly that, and his bro friends decide to play a little joke on him. Given that this is an Alaska ski resort, there is snow and ice all around. The guys carry him from the bar, place him in the driver’s seat of a car, and pile in around him. Of course, since this is also Alaskan party central, there are a number of “dudes” to stand outside and push the car. As the car is spinning in the snow, our mark is awakened and made to believe he is indeed behind the wheel. The panic is heartfelt and genuine and reflects the exact thought process I would expect someone who has fallen asleep while driving drunk has felt. As expected, everyone laughs, but Galifinakis grabs the guy in the passenger seat and gets a few head bonks to the steering wheel to brink it all home. Good times all around.
“I know the President.”
The Princess Bride – “Battle of Wits”
Rob Reiner is truly a legend. He has acted and directed his way into Hollywood royalty (disregard Dickie Roberts). His seminal hit The Princess Bride has been regarded as one of the best satires of all time. It has even made the IMDB Top 250 list, a wholly reputable source in its own right. Another highly quotable hit, Princess Bride has all the right inner workings of a successful fairy tale spinoff. It has a handsome and debonair lead, a damsel in distress, and multiple obstacles in our hero’s way to rescue the love of his life. Almost forgot, it also has Fred Savage. Don’t get too excited, this was before his professional Nintendo game playing days.
This story has a lot going on for it. There are pirates, giants, thieves, swordsmen, kings and queens to name just a few. The scene we are interested in follows our masked hero Westley as he tracks down the three outlaws that have kidnapped his love. Westley successfully defeats two of the three villains and finally finds himself with the boss, Vizzini. Once the possibility of an arrangement is lost, Westley challenges Vizzini to a so-called “battle of wits.” They pour two glasses of red wine and Westley poisons one with a tasteless, odorless, poison powder called iocane. He then places the glasses back on the table and instructs Vizzini to choose one. Ah the old switcheroo. Vizzini begins playing the game of deducing where he thinks our masked man would have placed the poisoned drink. He distracts Westley, switches the glasses again and they both drink. Just as Vizzini is celebrating his victory, he falls dead from the poison. Not too much of a prank just yet, this is just another tried and true technique of deception. The true practical joke occurs when we find out that Westley has spent the last two years building immunity to iocane, and both glasses were poisoned. Touché, Dread Pirate Roberts, touché.
Dazed and Confused – “Throw the bowling ball!”
Oh, Dazed and Confused. What a perfect movie about the 70’s to help us recall 90’s. The grunge era was in full swing when this movie was released, and one could argue that the two eras more closely resemble each other than any other two to come about. Richard Linklater shows us this during the last day of high school in 1976, and the students understandably care nothing more than to party, listen to music, and haze the upcoming freshmen. Despite having the same “London effect” that Out Cold has, the cast is very well rounded. One memorable moment has Matthew McConaughey delivering one of the finest creeper/statutory rape lines of all time, but that has been forgiven with his Oscar!
In terms of pranks, one particular round of mischief finds a group of friends playing a friendly game of mailbox baseball with trashcans after some beers and marijuana. Again, another classic in terms of pranking, but what sets this one apart is the epiphany O’Bannion has to “throw the bowling ball!” Trashcans just weren’t cutting it anymore; they had to step up the game a little. Only one problem, the bowling ball does not hit its intended target. Instead it lands squarely in the rear windshield of a vehicle parked on the side of the street. Momentary shock gradually leads to belly-laughs for all. All is good with the world for these teenagers, well, until a gun-toting resident who is not at all happy about his mailbox chases them down. Either way, this movie and That 70’s Show tell us all we need to know about being young in the 70’s. It rocked. A slacker’s paradise. Sex, drugs, and some of the greatest rock and roll ever recorded and I’m sure it was exactly like that ALL. THE. TIME.
Hot Tub Time Machine – “It’s hand soap!”
All right, lets fast-forward from the 70’s to the “Me!” generation that was the 1980’s. Defined by fast money, power, Dallas, and that little girl that fell down the well. That’s it. That was all that happened in the 80’s. The disco music that slowly took control of the late 70’s had morphed into 80’s synth pop or whatever. Point being: The 80’s sucked. I joke of course; I actually grew up in the 80’s. Cultural influences from the 80’s made me exactly the person I am today.
So if movies teach us anything, being young in the 70’s was just like Dazed and Confused, and being young in the 80’s was just like Weekend at Bernies. In Hot Tub Time Machine, a group of mid-life crisis type men get to time-travel (via a hot tub, really, it’s in the title) back to the 80’s to relive their glory days. Who hasn’t thought, at least once, if they could go back to high school or college for a day what they would have done differently. This movie takes that and spins it into reality, and the guys find themselves desperately trying to right supposed wrongs of the past. The cast even harkens back to 80’s movies, John Cusack, Chevy Chase, and that weird bastard Crispin Glover. So, as you can most likely tell already, my memory of the 80’s is pretty solid. One thing I don’t remember though is being held at gunpoint and forced to perform a sexual act on my bestie. Well, this happens in HTTM to Daily Show alum Rob Corddry and funniest man alive Craig Robinson. Fast forward a bit, because Robinson’s character passes out at this prospect, and rightly so. Corddry’s character sees the opportunity for a prank, and gives us the best one from the whole movie. Robinson wakes up in a restroom to find Corddry with what appears to be his own offspring on his face. After the understandable shock and awe of this prospect, Corddry informs him that it is only hand soap. Juvenile? Yes. Funny as hell? Absolutely. Watch the scene for yourself and if you don’t agree, you obviously have better sensibilities than my own. Go ahead and put on Dr. Feelgood and watch Bachelor Party again. I won’t judge.
Blue Valentine – The Whole Damn Movie
So there are pranks that happen in the movies themselves, and there are pranks the writers/directors play on us, the viewer. Consider this in the latter category. Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine is taglined “A Love Story.” Well, not exactly. This movie is heart wrenching, to say the least. If you are looking for the feel-good hit of the summer, this ain’t it. Why on Earth did I watch this? This movie is a train wreck from start to finish. Let me back up a bit. The movie itself isn’t that functionally=it is actually beautifully directed and scored. The acting is great as well; Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are genuine in their sustained marital pain and suffering. The target audience for this movie? Who knows? If you like great acting and a compelling, yet utterly hopeless storyline, go ahead and give this mood zapper a watch.
As a husband and father, I have to admit I am a little biased in my opinion of this movie. But again, watching this as anything else would easily sway anyone against the prospect of becoming either. There is simply no way around it: if this is the example of the modern American family (in many cases I fear it is), this movie leaves you with little hope. Do right by the children. This is the mantra we have all heard for ages. To his credit, Gosling’s character attempts this, but the sheer amount of fuckupery is far too much to right any wrongs. It is hard not to feel bad for the children caught in this mess. Let me leave you with this, the movie ends with the couple splitting up, and while Gosling’s character is walking away, the daughter runs after him crying and pleading for him to stay. That’s right. A Love Story. Well done, Cianfrance. Prank of the day for sure.