You're really asking for it by titling your film, "Let's Go to Prison." I'm sure plenty of critics called for the filmmakers to be sent to prison for making this atrocity. Or that spending time in a maximum security facility would be far more entertaining than watching this film. Or even that forcing somebody to watch "Let's Go to Prison" could be considered cruel and unusual punishment. Moviegoers might have done the same if anybody actually went out and saw the film. "Let's Go to Prison" was one of those "here today, gone tomorrow" releases. It only lasted about a month in theaters and pulled in under $5 million. Barely a blip on the radar.
"Let's Go to Prison" is loosely based on the cult classic You Are Going to Prison by Jim Hogshire, a non-fiction how-to guide for surviving prison. It was directed by Bob Odenkirk, a guiding force on the Showtime sketch comedy series, "Mr. Show", and adapted for the screen by Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon, and Michael Patrick Jann, three of the stars and creators of "Reno 911!" Plus, one of the stars of "Prison" happens to be Will Arnett, a member of the hilarious ensemble of the dearly departed "Arrested Development." You'd figure with all of these talented people involved, they'd be able to make a halfway decent comedy. But, I barely cracked a smile.
Dax Shepard plays the subtly named John Lyshitski, a career criminal since the age of eight. He's spent three long stints in prison thanks to several terribly planned attempts at robbery. His first crime was stealing the Publishers Clearing House van and being arrested after trying to cash the giant check. Each time, John is convicted by hardcase Judge Nelson Biederman III. After being released, he decides to get revenge on the old judge, only to discover the man has passed away. Now that the judge is dead, John directs his ire at his son, Nelson Biederman IV (Arnett).
Nelson runs a charity foundation started by his father, but he is anything but charitable. Nelson is a jerk, plain and simple. John breaks into Nelson's car and empties his asthma inhaler. While having an attack, Nelson panics and storms into a pharmacy where the elderly Asian owners mistake him for a thief. Nelson is sentenced to prison while his corporate cronies turn their backs on him and take over the foundation.
You'd think this would be a sweet enough revenge for John, but something is still missing. John deliberately sells pot to a pair of undercover cops and gets himself thrown into the same prison as Nelson. Initially, John befriends Nelson and becomes his cellmate. To Nelson's face, John pretends to be looking out for him. In reality, John is looking to make Nelson's stay a living Hell. Right away, Nelson makes enemies with a violent, white supremacist named Lynard (Michael Shannon). He also catches the eye of the amorous Barry (Chi McBride), who hopes to woo Nelson with shower room shampooing and toilet-brewed wine.
Anybody who has watched "Arrested Development" will notice slight parallels with Arnett's character on that show and in "Prison." Both are namby pamby rich boys and each spent some time in the big house. In fact, one of the reasons Arnett was cast was because of his role on the critically acclaimed sitcom. My favorite character on the show was Arnett's Gob Bluth and I thought for sure he'd be able to make me laugh. Unfortunately, Arnett gets nothing to work with here. Ironically, it seems Arnett's comedic abilities were confined by the lousy material. He's never really allowed to open up the way he did on "Arrested Development."
It's not just that the script isn't amusing whatsoever. It's shoddily written as well. There's no real setup for Nelson's asthma or his need for an inhaler. Then, after a huge to-do about his condition, it's completely forgotten for the rest of the film. There's nobody to root for either. John is a dullard and unrepentant criminal, so I'm not exactly cheering him on in his quest for vengeance. Neither am I pulling for Nelson to escape from under John's clutches since he's such a smarmy character. Perhaps, I'm asking for a little too much from a film that's basically one long joke about prison rape.
If I have anything positive to say about "Prison" it's that McBride makes some parts of the film a little less bearable as the smooth and romantic Barry. There's also Dylan Baker as the warden with an odd sense of humor, a role that should've much bigger.
The video is presented in widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The transfer looks pretty good, but nothing that spectacular since this is a relatively low-budget film. The film uses a slightly bleached out look that enhances the whites and grays.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 with optional English and Spanish dubbed language tracks. The movie is dialogue heavy and I could understand each line thanks to the clear audio track.
Since the film bombed, you won't find much in the way of extras. Let's Go to Prison Soundtrack Sessions is a short featurette with the film's composer, Alan Elliott, as he records the film's score. You'll also find two deleted scenes, an alternate ending, and skippable previews for "Man of the Year" and "Hot Fuzz."
Obviously, "Let's Go to Prison" isn't an uplifting "Shawshank Redemption"-like story about friendship and hope. It's unfunny juvenile humor, the type relegated to direct-to-video releases that collect dust in the bargain bins of Wal-Mart. I hope this rocky start isn't an indication to where Arnett's movie career is headed. He's far too talented to be wasting time with this dreck.