Tracker Pixel for Entry

The Prank: Moreno earns her teacher’s salary in otherwise weak horror-comedy

Cinema | March 19th, 2024

By Greg Carlson

gregcarlson1@gmail.com

The chief reason to see “The Prank,” a lumpy and unappetizing stew that could use a lot more salt, is legend Rita Moreno. The now 92-year-old phenomenon and EGOT winner (who was also the first Latin American woman to collect an acting Oscar) continues to perform like an unstoppable force. As the last working star who appeared in “Singin’ in the Rain,” Moreno links the present to Hollywood’s shimmering past. In 2021, she was the subject of Mariem Perez Riera’s worthwhile documentary feature, subtitled “Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It.” That career retrospective, which acknowledged the often cruel realities Moreno overcame to reach the summit, implicitly argues that the icon deserves to have her pick of projects.

Unfortunately, director Maureen Bharoocha’s movie, limping into theaters after languishing on the shelf since its 2022 premiere at SXSW, will be but a Moreno footnote. In the slight horror-comedy, Moreno plays high school physics teacher Mrs. Wheeler, a sharp-tongued disciplinarian known for her stylish bob, sleek black wardrobe (including ever-present kid gloves) and withering stare. Despite working well past the common retirement age, Wheeler strikes fear into the hearts of students like Ben Palmer (Connor Kalopsis), who is sweating it out over his need to secure a college scholarship. Following a cheating accusation, Ben and his bestie Mei Tanner (Ramona Young) cook up a flimsy plan to accuse Wheeler of murder.

The screenplay by the married writing team of Rebecca Flinn-White and Zak White deserves the largest share of the blame for the movie’s failing report card. Plotted with no concern for even the most rudimentary internal logic, the narrative stumbles and lurches from one incomprehensible sequence to another, ignoring both the rules of coherent storytelling and whatever legal policies and procedures we might expect to be followed by the investigating authorities. Even when the boy-who-cried-wolf “twist” veers into the absurd territory of severed heads in jars, Moreno gamely sticks it out.

The well-established trope of the awful teacher pops up in all kinds of cinematic contexts and genres: Imelda Staunton’s Dolores Umbridge, William Atherton’s Jerry Hathaway and Cameron Diaz’s Elizabeth Halsey are just three disasters who should be kept far away from pupils of any level. Some viewers might remember Helen Mirren’s Eve Tingle, the vindictive history teacher in “Teaching Mrs. Tingle.” And movie and television nerds of a certain age will conjure happier memories of Christopher Lloyd as the nightmarish English instructor B. O. Beanes in the 1986 “Amazing Stories” episode “Go to the Head of the Class.”

Golden Arm” (Bharoocha’s previous feature directorial outing), was superior to “The Prank” in every category. The ridiculous competitive arm-wrestling comedy, which I argued deserved more attention for the way it grounded its cartoonish subculture in real pathos, consistently piled up laughs that are notably absent from most of “The Prank.” As a rated-R addition to the teen movie pantheon, “The Prank” is also shockingly light on youthful hijinks. Despite the homicidal happenings, few of the supporting characters — including Meredith Salenger as Ben’s mother and Keith David as the principal — express much alarm, even when things start getting strange. Class dismissed.

Recently in:

By Vanessa Jugarap Clarkvanessajugarapclark@gmail.com "I lived in Gaza, Palestine from 2003 to 2017 and 2020 to 2021. From water cuts, to the electricity schedule of 6-on/12-off (on a good day), every day was a reminder of the…

By Annie Prafckeannieprafcke@gmail.com As an elementary school kid in the early 2000s, Kristy Tran didn’t start her day the way most kids do. Instead of rolling out of bed to go straight to school, Tran and her parents went…

March 19-23Fargo Theatre314 Broadway N, FargoCheck out luncheon panel discussions, pre-parties, a 2-minute movie contest, local, international and award-winning films for your viewing pleasure. Producer Will Greenfield will be…

By John Strandjas@hpr1.com What’s that you just said? “Tell somebody who gives a shit”? Stop reading this now if you don’t care about anyone else. Don’t waste your time. You’ll only get mad. Vocal. Obstinate.…

By Ed Raymondfargogadfly@gmail.comThe Catacombs under Paris Contain the Bones of Millions of FeudalistsSixty-five feet below the Paris streets are about 170 miles of tunnels that go through stone quarries, galleries, and ossuaries…

By Rick Gionrickgion@gmail.com Holiday wine shopping shouldn’t have to be complicated. But unfortunately it can cause unneeded anxiety due to an overabundance of choices. Don’t fret my friends, we once again have you covered…

By Rick Gionrickgion@gmail.com In this land of hotdish and ham, the knoephla soup of German-Russian heritage seems to reign supreme. In my opinion though, the French have the superior soup. With a cheesy top layer, toasted baguette…

By John Showalterjohn.d.showalter@gmail.com It is not unheard of for bands to go on hiatus. However, as the old saying goes, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” That is why when a local group like STILL comes back to…

Now playing at the Fargo Theatre.By Greg Carlson gregcarlson1@gmail.comPalme d’Or recipient “Anatomy of a Fall” is now enjoying an award-season victory tour, recently picking up Golden Globe wins for both screenplay and…

In the 20th and 21st centuries, the pursuit of knowledge has directed humankind to new horizons – the ocean depths, the infinite reach of space, and the hidden secrets of cells and microbes…or to Artificial Intelligence, which…

By John Showalterjohn.d.showalter@gmail.comHigh Plains Reader had the opportunity to interview two mysterious new game show hosts named Milt and Bradley Barker about an upcoming event they will be putting on at Brewhalla. What…

By Annie Prafckeannieprafcke@gmail.com AUSTIN, Texas – As a Chinese-American, connecting to my culture through food is essential, and no dish brings me back to my mother’s kitchen quite like hotdish. Yes, you heard me right –…

By Sabrina Hornungsabrina@hpr1.comNew Jamestown Brewery Serves up Local FlavorThere’s something delicious brewing out here on the prairie and it just so happens to be the newest brewery west of the Red River and east of the…

By John Showalter  john.d.showalter@gmail.comThey sell fentanyl test strips and kits to harm-reduction organizations and…

JANUARY 19, 1967– MARCH 8, 2023 Brittney Leigh Goodman, 56, of Fargo, N.D., passed away unexpectedly at her home on March 8, 2023. Brittney was born January 19, 1967, to Ruth Wilson Pollock and Donald Ray Goodman, in Hardinsburg,…

By William Cooperwcooper11@gmail.com When people look at political questions through a partisan lens, they apply their own personal gloss to the world. They reflexively interpret events in favor of their own tribe and against the…