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Review: ‘Pranksters’ may kill off the prankster genre

“Natural Born Pranksters” (2016)

Dennis Roady, from left, Vitaly Zdorovetskiy and Roman Atwood star in “Natural Born Pranksters.”

(Lionsgate)

It’s appropriate that the “Natural Born Pranksters” take their name from the film “Natural Born Killers,” because this group of YouTube stars just murdered prank-based humor. RIP pranks.

In borrowing the model of “Jackass” and “Punk’d,” this “film” lacks the essential DNA of what made those shows appealing. “Jackass” was powered by the charisma of its stars (there’s none of that to be found in “Natural Born Pranksters”), who led with their endearing, good-natured masochism.

The “Jackass” guys always made themselves the butt of the joke, the recipients of the worst abuse. These pranksters -- Roman Atwood, Dennis Roady and Vitaly Zdorovetskiy -- aren’t nearly so generous, and their sadistic stunts display a deep mean-spirited streak, resulting in racist, sexist and homophobic harassment.

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What made “Punk’d” work was that it never “punched down” — targeting public figures instead of unsuspecting civilians. These aren’t lighthearted pranks either, some of the sketches are criminal. The first prank? Sexual harassment. The second? Theft. The third prank involves setting up a young black woman to be violently arrested by cops during a fake robbery. Ha. Ha.

There’s a nod to the legal boundaries that they test with a short news clip about one of the pranksters being arrested for possessing a hoax bomb, but there’s no exploration or interrogation about the way that they continually cross the line of social order. It’s just a litany of hateful abuse and harassment. The worst infraction? How criminally unfunny they are. These viral stars are better off leaving the pranking to the pros.

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‘Natural Born Pranksters’

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MPAA rating: R for crude and dangerous pranks, language throughout and sexual content

Running time: 1 hour 31, minutes

Playing: AMC Orange 30. Also on VOD

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