Dir. by Bob Odenkirk - 1 hr. 24 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
I know that making a ha-ha movie about someone going to prison might be a hard sell to a movie studio, so why even approve it in the first place? This is exactly the kind of nightmare scenario that you can see coming a mile away: studio gets the first cut, says it's too dark, messes around with it, and some awful compromise version hits the theaters, where it inevitably bombs. Has a studio ever actually turned a movie around in this manner, taking it from something that feels like it's dead on arrival, messing around with whatever's been turned in so that it's no one's vision (and any pretense of artistic integrity goes out the window), and then it makes $100 million? Maybe, but all anyone ever hears about (especially with comedies) is that the studio hated, chopped it up, crapped it out, and it lost everyone involved a fortune. Why not just put out the first version and save the editing time and money?
John Lyshitski (Dax Shepard) is a life-long criminal, put on that path by Judge Nelson Biederman (David Darlow). When he gets out of jail (again), he decides to get revenge. Unfortunately, the Judge passed away three days before John gets out. But fortunately, he learns of the Judge's son, Nelson IV (Will Arnett), and decides that taking revenge on him instead will have to do. They end up cellies, and John attempts to steer Nelson as wrong as humanly possible, only to have everything continue to come up smelling like roses.
The idea of a prison tutorial is a solid one for a comedy, and there's some good material here. As expected, there are some pretty broad characters (like Chi McBride's Barry, or the main prison guard/bookie played by David Koechner), but the movie is essentially about an aggressive asshole out of his element (Nelson) being led around by someone who's surprisingly blase about incarceration (John). Nelson's aggression works well for him, but some of the sharpest observations about the scenario come from John. There's an exchange where Nelson's trying to figure out exactly what it is that he's supposed to do in the cell, where John explains that when people describe confining situations as like being in prison, this is what they mean. They're just supposed to sit there and do nothing.
And there are several pretty funny bits along the way. "Let's Go to Prison" is a pretty uneven comedy, but it's not a bad one. It's not a substantial movie, and there's the looming feeling of seeing a sketch blown up and stretched out to an hour and a half (that's not a knock on director Bob Odenkirk, of "Mr. Show" fame" so much as a common feeling with uneven comedies), but there some funny people involved, which helps smooth the ride. Instead of having a romance crammed into a comedy for the sole purpose of having a beautiful young actress on-screen to break up the bro-ing out, the romance here is predicated on a prison rape joke. It's a clever twist on the usual comedy film trope, if male/male rape can be called clever. But mainly, for a film that features no real nudity, sex, and mild violence, and still pulled an R-rating, "Let's Go to Prison" doesn't feel like it goes far enough in any regard.
I'm not suggesting that there needed to be more gratuitous whatever included, but there's not enough tension, or surprises, or the sort of ugliness you'd associate with a prison stay to make anything meaningful. And since Nelson seems to succeed when you'd expect him to fail, the only real tension in the story depends on whether or not you want John to get his revenge on Nelson. For me, that wasn't enough. I still laughed, I still enjoyed the main characters, I caught the Tim and Eric cameo, and this reminded me that I need to download at least a couple of Technotronic songs. But it's not exactly a great movie. It's not even a good comedy. It's got a couple of moments, and there might have been a couple more if the studio hadn't monkeyed with the film. If you're going to watch this, make sure that you've got a minimum of a couple of beers in you first.
2 / 5 - TV