Let's Go to Prison

"Grim"

Let's Go to Prison Review


I can attest first-hand that there are certain facts about Let's Go to Prison that might make it seem worthwhile. It was directed by Bob Odenkirk, the "Bob" half of the sometimes brilliant sketch comedy show Mr. Show with Bob & David; it was written by other sketch-comedy veterans, driving forces behind The State and, more recently, Reno 911; and it stars Will Arnett from Arrested Development, a show that was not sketch comedy but still favored by comedy connoisseurs. Other loose-collective comedies of this time period, like Talladega Nights or The 40-Year-Old Virgin, pool comedy's best and brightest to thoroughly entertaining results. Why should this lower-wattage but still talent-heavy film be any different?

Well, Let's Go to Prison also stars Dax Shepard, so maybe that should sound the alarm. But Prison is actually too mediocre to explain away by the presence of one guy from Punk'd. In fact, Shepard isn't a problem at all. He plays John Lyshitski (the film nicks one of the saddest Farrelly brothers trademarks -- non-jokes where the very presence of the S-word functions as a de facto punchline), a career petty criminal plagued by his own ineptitude and a hardass judge. Before he can get revenge, the judge dies -- so naturally he frames the judge's spoiled son, Nelson Biederman IV (Arnett), and gets himself thrown back in jail, pretending to befriend Biederman but tormenting him behind his back.

The film trips up immediately by refusing the utilize the vastness of Arnett's talent for creating hilariously entitled boors. Maybe the idea was to avoid reprising his Arrested Development character -- also a spoiled jackass -- but Nelson Biederman IV is too pathetic, too fast. There are some solid laughs rooted in his privileged naiveté, but when you should start getting caught up in farce, you feel sorry for him instead, and annoyed at Lyshitski's dopey plan.

Indeed, it's the kind of punchy but thin story that might work as a comic short subject, but seems ill-conceived once it passes the thirty-minute mark. Co-screenwriters Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon have made a side career writing blueprints for studio dreck like The Pacifier or Herbie: Fully Loaded, but Let's Go to Prison has a whole different kind of crumminess. Their screenplay seems curiously, well, if not personal, of a particular sensibility. It is crude and plodding, yes, but also dark, and cheerful about its darkness -- there are a wealth of jokes about suicide, rape, and other horrors of life in the joint. From these depths come the occasional funny one-liners. Describing the prison's resident white supremacist, for example, Shepard tells Arnett not to be fooled: "Underneath all the swastikas, he's a real prick." Odd that this off-kilter wit is displayed with such stinginess (or is it laziness?).

Odder still, the screenplay is supposedly an adapted one -- Lyshitski's voiceover narration shoehorns in some factoids about prison life taken from a nonfiction book called You Are Going to Prison, by Jim Hogshire. I guess the filmmakers thought using some real-life statistics would make crude comedy into satire. But the film's occasional chuckles have more to do with sketch-style absurdity, such as Biederman's mumbling, absent-minded affection for the song "Move This" by Technotronic. Moments like that -- powered by Arnett's flawless delivery -- keep Let's Go to Prison from comedy death row. But if disappointing alt-comedy fans is ever made illegal, the filmmakers will have to start looking over their shoulders.

Stop, hammer time.



Let's Go to Prison

Facts and Figures

In Theaters: Friday 17th November 2006

Box Office USA: $5.5M

Box Office Worldwide: $4.6M

Budget: $4M

Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Production compaines: Universal Pictures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 12%
Fresh: 5 Rotten: 36

IMDB: 6.0 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as John Lyshitski, as Nelson Biederman IV, as Barry, as Shanahan, as Warden, as Lynard, Miguel Nino as Jesus, Jay Whittaker as Icepick, as Judge Eva Fwae Wun, David Darlow as Judge Biederman, Joseph Marcus as Pawn Broker, Nick Phalen as John - 8 years, A.J. Balance as John - 18 years, Jerry Minor as Breen Guard, Mary Seibel as Old Bartender, Susan Messing as Stripper, Jim Zulevic as Sgt. Barker, Bill McGough as Deputy Mayor, as Duane, Bert Matias as Korean Pharmacist


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