Universal // 2006 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // March 16th, 2007
Let's go to prison! And not laugh!
Dax Shepard (Employee of the Month) and TV comedy god-man Will Arnett (Arrested Development) co-star in this prison comedy, leading to the age-old question: Is it possible to make anal rape and shivs funny?
No...but more on that later.
Shepard is John Lyshitski, a career criminal and overall delinquent. For years, he's harbored a grudge against the judge who sent him to his multiple incarcerations, Judge Nelson Biederman III. After completing his latest stint in jail, John decides to make the Judge's life hellish. Unfortunately for him, the Judge has recently passed away, so John shifts the focus of his ire to his spoiled jackass son, Nelson Biederman IV (Arnett). One thing leads to another and Nelson finds himself arrested, convicted and serving time in Rossmore State Penitentiary. John arranges to bunk with Nelson, to further torment his prey. Nelson is near-panicked as he gets accustomed to life in the slammer, and all that entails: beatings, stabbings, urination in his lunch, and the constant threat of prison rape. But there is a twist of fate in store for Nelson and it will turn around John's demented schemes.
While watching this movie, my dog sat in front of the TV and made funny faces. That was much funnier than anything that happened on screen.
Writers Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant, former members of MTV's The State and current members of the comedy troupe responsible for Reno! 911, boast some impressive credentials on the small screen, but their theatrical screenplays tend to annoy me. Really, really annoy me. Between The Pacifier, the nigh-unbearable Vin Diesel kiddie flick, and this astoundingly unfunny comedy, these guys are quickly incinerating the goodwill they've accumulated over the years.
The idea of a prison comedy struck me as tenuous, to say the least, though I tried to keep my expectations at a reasonably low level on the outside chance the movie may exceed them. It didn't. Let's Go to Prison is a painful experience, 85 minutes that feels much longer, peppered with jokes that miss wildly in an omnipresent atmosphere of awkwardness. That's your capsule review: this movie is not funny...and stinky.
Though I'm not shocked by my reaction, I am disappointed. See, Will Arnett is someone I'd really like to see blow up. His work on Arrested Development, the funniest television show I have ever seen, is iconic, and success for anyone associated with that show is welcome. But Arnett is wasted here. Nelson Biederman is a spineless twit, who, save for a sudden, contrived change of character three quarters the way through. From the beginning, he's set up as an overbearing a-hole, but this character trait isn't given much time to develop. He's soon dumped into prison and from there it's a lot of crying and nervous staring. Biederman's awkwardness becomes our awkwardness. Thing is, he's the most sympathetic character, because there's no one else to pull for: John (Dax Shepard) is a prick from frame one (and that doesn't change at all); Chi McBride plays a big scary guy who tries to grab a few laughs as the overly sensitive inmate who develops a gentle fondness for Nelson (an Eskimo kiss is, thankfully, the extent of the physical manifestation of said fondness); and, well, that's about it, save for a few white supremacists. When the credits do roll, you'll realize there wasn't a single likeable character, and that leaves the comic writing the unenviable task of salvaging the film on the quality of jokes alone. It's not up to the challenge. There are very few jokes that work, and with such weak characters, it's tough to cultivate any meaningful humor in their actions or dialogue. Really, Shepard's John, who starts off semi-likable and funny, nosedives and spends the rest of the film being a grade-A twat. All of the crap he puts Nelson through is cruel, not amusing. Sure Nelson's a jerk, but does he really deserve all this? Isn't John just pissed about going to jail all those times that he happened to deserve it by the way? The bad premise can not support these attempts at humor, and the film just implodes.
And let's face it: prison isn't funny. In fact, aside from an '80s hard labor Soviet camp or that glimpse of Hell from The Exorcist III with Patrick Ewing, I can't think of many worse places to be sent than prison. There's nothing playful about a penitentiary. It's a scary, scary place filled with scary, scary people, and director Bob Odenkirk actually paints his setting a place of dread. Talk about handicapping your production from the get-go.
Okay, silver lining time: Nelson, through a convenient circumstance, enjoys a change of fortunes in the lock-up. Briefly, the edge is taken off and some humor shines through an otherwise unpleasant experience. But Odenkirk and the writers can't capitalize, and this potential is never fully realized or translated into real laughs. Shepard's best work in the beginning is authentically funny; it just doesn't last the runtime.
The DVD is fine. Both the theatrical R-rated cut and an unrated cut are included, though the unrated doesn't feature much debauchery. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is fine, bringing out the full, glorious color of the orange prison jumpsuits. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix works. Only a few extras on hand: two deleted scenes, an alternate ending that makes less sense than the nonsensical real ending, and six minutes worth of footage from the soundtrack recording studio.
In one episode of Arrested Development Will Arnett's character tried to escape from prison as a magic trick. The few minutes he was onscreen for that small plotline was infinitely funnier than anything in this film.
Send this one to the hole, pronto.
Review content copyright © 2007 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Alternate Ending
* Recording Studio Footage
* Official Site