Review: ‘Trolls Band Together,’ starring the voices of Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Eric André, Kid Cudi, Daveed Diggs, Andrew Rannells, Amy Schumer, Troye Sivan and Kenan Thompson

November 4, 2023

by Carla Hay

John Dory (voiced by Eric André), Poppy (voiced by Anna Kendrick) and Branch (voiced by Justin Timberlake) in “Trolls Band Together” (Image courtesy of DreamWorks Animation)

“Trolls Band Together”

Directed by Walt Dohrn; co-directed by Tim Heitz

Culture Representation: This animated film sequel, whch is the third film in the “Trolls” movie seires, has a racially diverse cast (white, African American and Latino) voicing characters based on troll dolls.

Culture Clash: A troll doll named Branch has his secret past exposed as a short-lived boy band member with his brothers, who must all reunite to save one of the brothers, who has been kidnapped by fraternal twin pop stars.

Culture Audience: “Trolls Band Together” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of the “Trolls” movie series, the movie’s cast members, and pop songs from the 1970s to 2000s.

Pictured clockwise, from upper left: Spruce (voiced by Daveed Diggs), Bitty B, also known as Baby Branch (voiced by Alan Kim), Floyd (voiced by Troye Sivan), Clay (voiced by Kid Cudi) and John Dory (voiced by Eric André) in “Trolls Band Together” (Image courtesy of DreamWorks Animation) 

Although not as good as the first two “Trolls” movies, “Trolls Band Together” has its charms with high-energy entertainment and appealing characters. The movie’s biggest flaw: The story is overstuffed with subplots and stunt-casting cameos. There’s nothing award-worthy about “Trolls Band Together,” but it’s the type of animated movie that delivers what it’s supposed to deliver to its intended audience. “Trolls Band Together” (which is the third movie in the “Trolls” series) seems much more geared to children under the age of 8, compared to the first two “Trolls” movies.

Directed by Walter Dohrn and co-directed by Tim Heitz, “Trolls Band Together” is a sequel in the movie series that began with 2016’s “Trolls” and continued with 2020’s “Trolls World Tour.” The movies are based on Good Luck Trolls (toy figurines) created by Thomas Dam. The returning characters in “Trolls Band Together” include Queen Poppy (voiced by Anna Kendrick) and her boyfriend Branch (voiced by Justin Timberlake), who go on a mission to reunite Branch with his brothers, who were all in a boy band together. They have to reunite in order to rescue one of the brothers, who has been kidnapped by villainous fraternal twin pop stars. Elizabeth Tippet wrote the “Trolls Band Together” screenplay.

The movie begins with a flashback from about 20 years earlier, to show the boy band BroZone, consisting of five brothers: the leader John Dory (voiced by Eric André), heartthrob Spruce (voiced by Daveed Diggs), the “fun” one Clay (voiced by Kid Cudi), the sensitive one Floyd (voiced by Troye Sivan), and the “baby” Bitty B, which was Branch’s stage name as the youngest member of the group. During a performance where Bitty B/Baby Branch (voiced by Iris Dohrn) made his stage debut with BroZone, the five group members form a pyramid with their bodies, with Bitty B at the top of this pyramid.

Unfortunately, Bitty B loses his balance, the pyramid collapses, and it causes a domino effect of various mishaps on stage that lead to the concert being cancelled. The brothers are so angry about this embarrassing incident, they argue backstage and decide to break up immediately. Bitty B/Baby Branch gets much of the blame for the fiasco that happened on stage.

The brothers go their separate ways and lose contact with each other. Branch feels so guilty about what happened, he doesn’t tell people in his current life about his brothers and about his past as a short-lived member of BroZone. However, Branch’s past catches up to him when John Dory makes a surprise appearance at the wedding of King Gristle (voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and Bridget (voiced by Zooey Deschanel), who is Poppy’s best friend. Branch is also a guest at the wedding. This is how Poppy finds out about Branch’s brothers and their BroZone past.

John Dory tells Branch that their brother Floyd has been kidnapped by twin pop stars Velvet (voiced by Amy Schumer) and Veneer (voiced by Andrew Rannells), who are jealous that Floyd has talent, but the twins do not. Velvet and Veneer secretly lip synch their songs. Of the twins, Velvet is the one with the nastier personality. She frequently bullies Veneer and their personal assistant Crimp (voiced by Zosia Mamet).

John Dory found out where Floyd is being held captive and was able to talk to Floyd, who is being held in a diamond cage. Floyd tells John Dory that the cage can only be broken by the sound of perfect family harmony. And you know what that means: A mission to get the band (namely, BroZone) back together.

The rest of “Trolls Band Together” is the expected mix of musical scenes (with pop songs from the 1970s to 2000s), new characters being introduced, and more secrets being revealed. “Trolls Band Together” is also an obvious promotional vehicle for the reunion of *NYSNC, the boy band that made Timberlake famous. The *NSYNC reunion song “Better Place” (co-written by Timberlake, Shellback and Amy Allen) is heard in two different versions near the end of the movie. Other original songs in “Trolls Band Together” are “Family,” “Perfect” and “It Takes Two,” all co-written by Timberlake, Mike Elizondo, Michael Pollack and Emily Warren.

Making return appearances are Guy Diamond (voiced by Kunal Nayyar) and his son Tiny Diamond (voiced by Kenan Thompson), two glittery and talkative Trolls. Tiny ends up being the automobile driver for the mission to reunite BroZone. A princess character named Viva (voiced by Camila Cabello) has a surprise connection to one of the main characters. It’s a subplot that really didn’t need to be in the movie and just distracts from the main story.

“Trolls Band Together” is packed with celebrity voice actors, but at least half of them have screen time that’s less than five minutes each. To its detriment, “Trolls Band Together” went a little too overboard with this stunt casting. One of these cameo appearances is RuPaul Charles as Miss Maxine, the sassy officiator at the wedding of King Gristle and Bridget. The other members of *NSYNC have voice roles as their Troll alter egos who appear briefly toward the end of the film: JC Chasez is Hype, Joey Fatone is Ablaze, Lance Bass is Boom and Chris Kirkpatrick is Trickee.

“Trolls Band Together” isn’t great, but it isn’t horrible either. The visuals are attractive but not groundbreaking. The movie’s main saving grace is the talent of the voice cast members (Kendrick continues to be a standout), who make parts of the movie engaging by sheer personality when these parts of the movie could be just average if less talented voice actors had these roles. As long as viewers don’t have high expectations for “Trolls Band Together,” the movie can be enjoyed for being a crowd-pleasing animated film.

Universal Pictures/DreamWorks Animation will release “Trolls Band Together” in U.S. cinemas on November 17, 2023. A sneak preview of the movie was shown in select U.S. cinemas on November 4, 2023.

Review: ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3,’ starring Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Louis Mandylor, Elena Kampouris, Gia Carides, Joey Fatone, Lainie Kazan and Andrea Martin

September 18, 2023

by Carla Hay

John Corbett, Maria Vacratsis, Melina Kotselou, Nia Vardalos, Elena Kampouris, Andrea Martin and Elias Kacavas in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3” (Photo by Yannis Drakoulidis/Focus Features)

“My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3”

Directed by Nia Vardalos

Culture Representation: Taking place in Greece and briefly in Chicago, the comedy film “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Arab people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A large Greek American family goes to Greece to spread the ashes of a recently deceased patriarch and to deliver his beloved journal to his old friends, but complications and distractions happen during this chaotic family trip. 

Culture Audience: “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star/filmmaker Nia Vardalos and the “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” franchise, but people who saw the first movie in the franchise will be appalled or disappointed by how low the quality has sunk for this third film in the series.

Gia Carides and Joey Fatone in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3” (Photo by Yannis Drakoulidis/Focus Features)

The third time is not the charm for the “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” movie series. Writer/director/star Nia Vardalos should have given “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3” the title “My Big Fat Pathetic Excuse for a Movie Sequel.” This dull, unfunny film drags down to embarrassing levels of stale jokes that would be rejected by amateur comedians. This is not going to be the movie that will erase the “one-hit wonder” image that Vardalos has in filmmaking.

When the romantic comedy “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” was released in 2002, this low-budget independent film became a surprise blockbuster hit in telling the story of a 30-year-old Greek American named Toula Portokalos (played by Vardalos) who works at her family’s Greek restaurant in Chicago, and is being pressured by her large and opinionated family to get married to a nice man of Greek heritage. However, Toula falls in love with a nice non-Greek man named Ian Miller (played by John Corbett), who is a school teacher. Vardalos, who was born and raised in Canada, got an Oscar nomination for writing the screenplay for “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” which is based on a one-woman play that she did in Los Angeles in 1997. The play was inspired by her own life as a woman of Greek heritage who married a man who does not have Greek heritage.

“My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” (released in 2016), a very unworthy sequel, told the story of spouses Toula and Ian dealing with their 17-year-old daughter/only child Paris (played by Elena Kampouris), who wants to go to a university far away from her parents. Shenanigans happen when the family finds out that Toula’s Greek immigrant parents Konstantinos/Kostas “Gus” Portokalos (played by Michael Constantine) and Maria Portokalos (played by Lainie Kazan) aren’t legally married because of a technicality. You can easily guess who’s having the big wedding in that movie. In “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3,” it’s not revealed right away who will have the movie’s big wedding, but when it does happen, it’s so hastily thrown into the movie, it looks very fake and rushed. It’s really just sloppy screenwriting

Vardalos wrote the screenplay for all three of these movies (where Toula is the narrator), but “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3” is the first time she’s directed a movie in the “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” franchise. Her feature-film directorial debut was 2009’s “I Hate Valentine’s Day” (also starring Vardalos and Corbett), which was a cringeworthy flop in every sense of the word. Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson and Gary Goetzman are the producers of the first three “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” movies, which have had diminishing returns in creativity and profits. In other words, sometimes all you need are some rich friends who will pay for your awful movie and can afford to lose money if the movie rightfully bombs.

You’d think that with a seven-year gap between “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” sequels, that would be enough time for Vardalos to come up with some clever ideas. But no. “My Big Fat Weekend 3” is just a mostly boring hodgepodge of badly edited skits in desperate need of a coherent plot. The movie jumps from one subplot to the next, while stuffing these subplots with cheesy gags and hokey scenarios and never fully developing these subplots.

“My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3” also has a weird fixation on making tasteless jokes at the expense of elderly women because of their ages and physical conditions. It’s “insult comedy” that has no wit or even a glimmer of charm, because the jokes are very idiotic, as if they came from the mind of a less-than-smart 12-year-old brat. For example, in “My Big Fat Weekend 3,” Toula’s widowed mother Maria now has early-onset dementia. (Constantine, who played Maria’s husband/Toula’s father, died in 2021.) The movie makes Maria (who’s in the movie for less than 15 minutes) the butt of jokes because Maria has this very traumatic medical disease.

The first two “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” movies took place in Chicago. “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” takes place mostly in Greece and briefly in Chicago. The movie was filmed on location in Greece, so there are plenty of aesthetically pleasing camera shots of the gorgeous Greek landscape. But this movie isn’t a video travelogue, although many of the most basic travelogues are more exciting than this dreadful dud of a movie.

Toula and her very large family (without Maria, who’s too ill to travel) go to Greece to have a memorial for Toula’s recently deceased father, whose wish was for his treasured personal journal to be delivered to his group of male best friends, whom he knew when he was living in Greece. Toula’s father was cremated, so the urn with his ashes is brought on this trip, with the intention to scatter the ashes in the Greek village where he was raised. Recent college dropout Paris, who left New York University because of too much partying, is on this trip. And so are Toula’s dimwitted brother Nick Portokalos (played by Louis Mandylor) and Maria’s two annoying sisters: talkative and controlling Voula (played by Andrea Martin) and weak-minded and creepy Frieda (played by Maria Vacratsis), who are all unflattering stereotypes of Greek Americans.

This movie sets up sight gags of this large group (at least 20) of Toula’s family members boarding the airplane like a noisy group of squawking chickens. Except for the above-mentioned relatives who are in Toula’s immediate circle, the additional family members are really just glorified extras who don’t have significant lines of dialogue or storylines. And in a very contrived plot development, Paris’ most recent former suitor (a guy she barely knows because she rejected him after only one or two dates) is on the same flight. He is a handsome Greek American named Aristotle (played by Elias Kacavas), who tells a horrified Paris that he was hired to help Voula (the movie never really explains what type of “help” Aristotle agreed to do), only to find out that it’s an obvious setup for Aristotle and Paris to get back together.

Upon arriving at the airport in Greece, things get more ridiculous when a cheerful young stranger (about mid-to-late 20s) whose name is Victory (played by Melina Kotselou) greets this boisterous clan and offers to give them a tour of the village where the family will be having the memorial. Victory claims to be the mayor of this village, which Victory later announces has only six residents. The circumstances under which Victory knew about this family’s airplane flight are vaguely explained, much like many things are inadequately explained in this poorly written movie.

“My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3” keeps dropping big hints that Victory is a non-binary person, but the movie won’t really come right out and say the word “non-binary.” It’s as if Vardalos wanted to appeal to political liberals for having an “inclusive” movie, but she also didn’t want to offend political conservatives by having an openly non-binary character in the movie. It’s playing both sides, which comes off as kind of manipulative.

The movie isn’t that inclusive, when it comes to race. Except for a few characters of Arab heritage, everyone who has a speaking role in this movie is white. “My Big Fat Wedding 3” is polluted with overused family comedy clichés of meddling aunts who are obsessed with everyone else’s love lives; pouting young people who want freedom from their parents’ expectations; buffoonish uncles/brothers, who act like clueless clowns; and a central couple who wants to hold the family together and make everyone happy.

Another big family comedy cliché is a grouchy old woman whose main purpose is to make the characters uncomfortable. In the case of “My Big Fat Wedding 3,” this cranky senior citizen is Alexandra (played by Anthi Andreopoulou), who suddenly shows up and keeps interfering in the family’s business. Alexandra says that she is a former girlfriend of Toula’s father, and they dated before he met Maria. Here’s an example of one of the movie’s terrible jokes: Alexandra announces to the group: “I can do facials with Greek yogurt. Enemas too.”

Alexandra has a friendly personal assistant named Qamar (played by Stephanie Nur), who is a Syrian refugee with no family members in Greece. Qamar is dating a good-looking local Greek man named Christos (played by Giannis Vasilottos), but they’re keeping their romance a secret from Christos’ family, because they’re afraid his family won’t accept Qamar for not being Greek. You know where this is all going, of course. Later in the movie, a local Greek man named Peter (played by Alexis Georgoulis), who’s a few years older than Toula, is introduced to Toula and her family. Toula immediately thinks that Peter is attracted to her.

Voula’s two children Nikki (played by Gia Carides) and Angelo (played by Joey Fatone) make tangential return appearances that are awkwardly shoved into “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3.” Nikki and Angelo are summoned from the U.S. to go to Greece and are tasked with finding the long-lost friends of Toula’s late father. Nikki, who was in the first two “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” movies, was a vital character as Toula’s best friend in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” In “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3,” she’s a sidelined and cartoonish character. And so is Angelo, who came out as gay in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2,” but his personal life is not part of the storyline in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3.”

As for Toula and Ian, their relationship is portrayed on a very superficial level in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3,” with no real insight into how they’ve evolved as a couple since “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2.” Toula and Ian kiss and cuddle each other and show other signs that they are still in love, but it’s like reading a greeting card for someone’s wedding anniversary: The loving words are there, but they’re just showy expressions. On screen in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3,” the marriage of Ian and Toula doesn’t have much substance and often looks too much like an acting performance. Toula and Ian, whose passion is supposed to be the driving force of this franchise, have become a bland and monotonous couple.

“My Big Fat Greek Wedding” is a pile-on of empty-headed dialogue and scenarios. In one scene, Toula has had a little too much alcohol to drink. She says, “I forgot there’s alcohol in alcohol.” Watching “A Big Fat Greek Wedding 3” is like watching human brain cells die from all the stupidity in this time-wasting movie.

In another scene, a goat has accidentally wandered into the house where Toula and her family are staying. This unexpected goat intrusion happens early in the morning, when everyone is still asleep. Voula lets out a big scream when she sees the goat in the living room. She later quips about seeing the goat: “I thought my husband had come back from the dead.”

In yet another scene that’s supposed to be funny but just falls flat, Paris (whose wardrobe suddenly goes from frumpy to flirty in this movie) goes for a swim by herself on a beach, only to discover that she’s at a nudist beach. (There are no naked private parts in this movie.) She decides to go with the flow and take off all her clothes before going in the water for a relaxing swim. And then, Paris is shocked to find out that Voula and Frieda are at the beach too and right there in the water with her. The movie then quickly cuts to another scene.

“My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3” is an example of a bad movie that was made because the producers didn’t step in and demand a rewrite of this horrible screenplay. Vardalos’ aimless direction shows that she has learned nothing from the disaster that was “I Hate Valentine’s Day.” What’s most disappointing of all is that Vardalos created some very vibrant and interesting characters in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” but she has turned these characters into shallow props for a lot of jokes and slapstick set-ups that are lazy, worn-out and very misguided.

Focus Features released “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3” in U.S. cinemas on September 8, 2023.

Review: ‘Impractical Jokers: The Movie,’ starring James ‘Murr’ Murray, Brian ‘Q’ Quinn, Joe Gatto and Sal Vulcano

February 22, 2020

by Carla Hay

Brian “Q” Quinn, James “Murr” Murray, Sal Vulcano and Joe Gatto in “Impractical Jokers: The Movie” (Photo courtesy of truTV)

“Impractical Jokers: The Movie”

Directed by Chris Henchy

Culture Representation: The predominantly white cast of the comedy film “Impractical Jokers: The Movie” has the four prank-playing stars of truTV’s “Impractical Jokers” going on a road trip to Miami and encountering people from various walks of life.

Culture Clash: This entire movie is about how the stars of “Impractical Jokers” compete with each other over an invitation to a Paula Abdul party, and they play pranks on unsuspecting people and themselves as part of the competition.

Culture Audience: “Impractical Jokers: The Movie” will primarily appeal to “Impractical Jokers”/The Tenderloins fans and other fans of lowbrow pranks.

Joe Gatto, Sal Vulcano, James “Murr” Murray and Brian “Q” Quinn in “Impractical Jokers: The Movie” (Photo courtesy of truTV)

Fans of truTV’s “Impractical Jokers,” which has been on the air since 2011 and follows the New York City-based comedy troupe The Tenderloins, should already know what to expect for “Impractical Jokers: The Movie,” the first theatrically released feature film from truTV. The question is if it’s worth paying extra money to see a movie that could basically be a TV special available at no extra charge for people who have truTV. You’d have to be a humorless grouch to not enjoy some of the genuinely laugh-out-loud moments in the movie. However, “Impractical Jokers: The Movie” falls on its face when it steers away from the pranks, and it has the stars of the show reading scripted lines as actors portraying themselves.

“Impractical Jokers: The Movie,” directed by Funny or Die co-founder Chris Henchy, is absolutely the type of lowbrow, frat-boy comedy that fans love about the “Impractical Jokers” TV series. It’s the same format, with the guys using hidden cameras, as well as hidden speaking/listening devices to feed lines to whichever guy is doing the prank, in order to make things more uncomfortable for him.

The movie is made for “Impractical Jokers” fans, not anyone looking for anything intellectual or groundbreaking. But for people who don’t know anything about “Impractical Jokers,” the movie is a pretty good introduction to the four “Impractical Jokers” stars: James “Murr” Murray, Brian “Q” Quinn, Joe Gatto and Sal Vulcano, also known as the comedy troupe The Tenderloins. (All four of The Tenderloins, along with Henchy and Funny or Die’s Jim Ziegler and Buddy Enright, are producers of the movie.)

Murr is the group’s biggest physical daredevil and the “ladies’ man” in the movie: He gets completely naked during a boat prank, and near the end of the film, there’s a scene of him tied to the top of a small airplane as a stunt. (It’s not a stunt double.) Sal is the one who’s most likely to get the most humiliating pranks from the other guys. Q is the most sensible one of the group and is the one most likely to stop a prank if he thinks it’s headed in the wrong direction. Joe is the best improviser who’s the most likely to think quickly on his feet if a prank doesn’t go the way it was originally expected.

The movie begins with a scripted “origin story” of the “Impractical Jokers” stars’ first prank. At a Paula Abdul concert in the early 1990s, the four guys pull the fire-alarm switch, which abruptly ends the concert by sending frightened audience members heading for the exit. Abdul (who portrays herself in flashback scenes and present-day scenes) is so enraged that she gets in a physical fight with the four pranksters, including punching Sal in the throat, and she vows to get revenge on them.

Fast forward about 25 years later, and the guys are having dinner together at a restaurant, when Abdul sees them, but only recognizes them as the stars of “Impractical Jokers.” She comes over and gushes about how much of a fan she is, and the guys are relieved that she doesn’t remember them as the pranksters who ruined her concert years ago. Abdul invites them to a party she’s having in Miami, where she will also perform.

The guys are happy to accept the invitation because they think the party will be a “do-over” for them to make up for the fiasco of the previous time they were around Abdul. But there’s a problem: When they get the laminated badges that will give them access to the party, only three badges have been provided for them instead of four. Instead of asking for a fourth badge, they decide that on their road trip to Miami, they’ll do a series of pranks, and the guy who loses the most pranks will be the one who won’t get to go to the party.

So off they go on the road trip. One of their first stops is in Washington, D.C., which yields some of the best laughs in the movie. First, the guys do a prank challenge at the Lincoln Memorial, where they each have to convince strangers to approve a very inappropriate and distasteful eulogy. Each of the guys, while holding an urn said to contain someone’s ashes, separately approach visitors at a memorial monument. They ask the strangers to tell them what they think of a eulogy that they’ve written, and then read the eulogy. Each eulogy turns out to be insulting to the “dead person,” and most of the strangers approached say that the eulogy shouldn’t be read at the memorial. In the end, all but one of the guys fails this challenge.

In an even better scene, hidden cameras follow a tourist group being taken on a guide of caverns in the area. Joe then surprises the group by crawling out of a cave and pretending to be someone who had been trapped there since 1987. He’s wearing ghoulish light green makeup and alien-looking ears. And the startled and shocked expressions on the tourists’ faces are priceless.

Joe then makes up a story about being lost in the cave as a kid, when he got separated from his parents on a tour guide of the caverns. He’s wearing a T-shirt that says, “I’m the Beef” (in reference to the famous “Where’s the Beef?” Wendy’s ad campaign from the 1980s. He asks the tour group, “Who shot J.R.?” (in reference to the famous cliffhanger from the TV series “Dallas”), and he asks if Walter Mondale got a second term. (Mondale ran against Ronald Reagan in the 1984 U.S. presidential election and lost.) All of these jokes land best with people who know about or remember the ’80s. Based on some of the puzzled or blank expressions of the younger people in the tourist group, the jokes went right over their heads.

When the guys are in Atlanta, another highlight of the movie is a challenge where they each interview for a job with the Atlanta Hawks, and they have to act like the interviewee from hell by saying and doing bizarre things during the interview. Joe is the funniest one in the group for this challenge, because he excuses himself to use the restroom during the interview, and then goes down to the basketball court that can be seen from the interview room, and starts playing basketball while the interviewer looks on in shock. When he comes back to the interview room, he tells the interviewer that security in the building isn’t very good because he was able to shoot hoops on the court without anyone stopping him.

Other prank challenges are hit-and-miss. One of these mixed-results challenges takes place on a private tour boat and resulted in a “win” for any of the “Impractical Jokers” guy who could convince tourists not to let the boat captain rescue someone in distress in a nearby raft. (The person “in distress” and the boat captain are really actors who are in on the prank.) This challenge was inconsistent because it had someone playing a military man in distress for part of the challenge, but then in another part of the challenge, a completely naked Murr plays the person in distress.

Another challenge that probably sounded funnier on paper than how it ended up on screen is when Murr celebrates his birthday at a strip club. While he’s getting lap dances in a private room, the blinds on a window in the room are lifted to reveal that members of his family (including his mother and underage nieces and nephews) are in the next room and watching him getting grinded on by strippers.

And in the beginning of the movie, a challenge with Sal dressed up as a shopping-center Santa Clause starts out funny when he pretends to fall asleep while a child is sitting on his lap. But then it becomes a little too mean-spirited to kids when Sal is told by the other guys to keep interrupting a little girl on his lap, and Sal “wins” if he can prevent her from telling “Santa” what her wishes are. It’s one thing to play hidden-camera pranks on adults. It’s another thing to subject kids to these pranks when they’re too young to understand what’s going on. But some parents must’ve signed release forms for their kids to be in this movie, so there you have it.

Another prank that will get mixed reactions is a roadside assistance challenge, where each guy pretends to be a stranded motorist with a broken-down car on a busy expressway, and tries to get help by flagging down cars that are passing nearby. There’s a slightly homophobic undertone to this prank, because some of the guys (namely, Joe and Murr) each try to act like a gay man to test the reactions of the people (who are all men) who stop to help. The pranksters apparently picked an area of the South that has a lot of redneck types, just to see their reactions when these locals are around a man who gives hints that they’re stereotypically gay. Murr scares one guy off when he leans over and shows that he’s wearing a purple thong. There are also double entendre jokes about gay sex to test if the Good Samaritans will pick up on the jokes.

While that questionable humor might not work so well in the movie, one of the funniest scenes is when the Sal, who doesn’t like cats, gets a prank played on him by the other guys. They lock him inside a motel room with a white tiger, which is chained up but sill close enough for Sal to have a panic attack. They don’t let Sal out of the room until he agrees to say things like “I’m a bitch boy.”

When one of the “Impractical Jokers” stars is the target of a prank, it’s hard to know how much of his reaction is real or is acting. And the movie’s cameo scenes with celebrities (such as Joey Fatone and Jaden Smith, who each portray themselves) lose their impact because viewers are told that Fatone and Smith are already in on the jokes.

The enduring popularity of “Impractical Jokers” is mainly because of unscripted reactions from everyday people who are truly unsuspecting targets of harmless pranks. Those are the best parts of the TV series and the best parts of this movie. As for the movie’s filler scenes where the “Impractical Jokers” stars have to memorize lines and recite screenplay dialogue like professional actors, here’s some unsolicited advice for these pranksters: “Don’t quit your day jobs.”

truTV released “Impractical Jokers: The Movie” in select U.S. cinemas on February 21, 2020.

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