"Let's Go to Prison" is dead on arrival, and what an unceremonious arrival it is. Released without screenings for the press and dumped into theaters during the competitive pre-Thanksgiving weekend where it has no chance of survival, Universal Studios surely know they have a stinker on their hands and are hedging their bets. Directed by Bob Odenkirk and written by Robert Ben Garant & Thomas Lennon (2005's "Herbie: Fully Loaded
") and Michael Patrick Jann (director of 1999's "Drop Dead Gorgeous
"), the film is a clueless, pointless, unfunny dud that can't make up its mind what it wants to be. Is it a dark satire of prison life and the penal system? A revenge fantasy? A broad farce with raunchy gags and slapstick? A love story between two inmates that at least suggestively becomes a threesome by the end? Somehow, some way, "Let's Go to Prison" is all of these things and, due to its thoroughly unconvincing treatment, none at all.
"If I had a nickel for every time I went to prison, I'd have fifteen cents." So says 30-year-old John Lyshitski (Dax Shepard), a career criminal who, upon getting out of the clink for the third time, decides it's payback time for the judge that sent him away. When he finds out he has died, John sets his sights on the judge's meek, by-the-book son Nelson Biederman IV (Will Arnett). Falsely convicted of trying to rob a convenience storein actuality, asthmatic Nelson was desperately searching for a working inhaler after John secretly sabotaged his old oneNelson is outrageously sentenced to several years in prison by a jury of nitwits. Not willing to give up without a fight, John promptly gets himself arrested and then placed in Nelson's cell so that he can continue to seek his own brand of misplaced revenge.
"Let's Go to Prison" is the kind of movie where one can tell that the actors already know they're making a piece of crap. There is a sense of detachment in nearly all the performances, their last-ditch efforts to spruce up the poorly-timed humor with improvisation met by the clear sound of crickets chirping. It's not necessarily that the acting is bad, but that their potential is diffused by lame material that gives them half-baked caricatures rather than characters to work with. Dax Shepard (2006's "Employee of the Month
") narrates as John Lyshitski, but the role stays at arm's length from the viewer. It is never clear who John is, what he hopes to accomplish, why he is such a screw-up, and whether or not he should be liked. Shepard plays him as a good-looking slimeball whose limited future aspirations include making deals with cigarettes and ordering red feathery lingerie from catalogs. Will Arnett (2006's "R.V.
") tries some interesting and offbeat things in his portrayal of scaredy-cat Nelson, who doesn't belong in prison next to heavy-duty hardened criminals, but the way he recites his lines is not unlike the exaggerated way one might act in a "Saturday Night Live" skit.
And then we come to Chi McBride (2005's "Roll Bounce
"), who must have been paid a pretty penny to give his services as smooth-talking inmate Barry. Through a can't-break deal that goes on without Nelson's knowledge, Barry pursues Nelson, and before long the two are in a relationship where they share "toilet wine," shave one another's facial hair, and give Eskimo kisses. Apparently, that's as extreme as same-sex romances go. Had this subplot been treated with any conviction, there might have been an effective unlikely relationship theresort of a "Brokeback Mountain
" in prison, if you willbut the movie embraces non-commercial ideas with a conformist attitude that hypocritically goes against what it is trying to accomplish. McBride puts on a game exterior and eats up the scenery to mask his embarrassed desperation.
A blackly comic look at the inner workings of the prison hierarchy, "Let's Go to Prison" touches upon but does not explore any of its plot threads. Too sophomoric for fans of, say, Christopher Guest, too explicit for its target audience of under-17s to be able to see it (the movie is rated R), and concluding on an awkward, tacked-on note that basically forgets about its original premise, the film is a monumental waste of time. An end credits sing-along tops it all off, but at least is consistent with the preceding 80 minutes by being a terrible idea brought to horrific fruition. "Let's Go to Prison" is strictly direct-to-DVD fare that got lucky with a big studio. Like most non-theatrical efforts, however, it is destined to be forgotten about by nearly everyone but those that blessedly never heard of it in the first place. We should all be so lucky.