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The need for a comedy about life in prison is made evident within the first few seconds of Let’s Go To Prison. From notable mug shots of celebrities like James Brown to footage of Martha Stewart leaving the courthouse shown during the opening credits, the audience is reminded that Hollywood doesn’t take prison too seriously, so why should we? Somehow that sets the stage perfectly for the next hour and a half of brawls, shivs, and anal rape jokes.
Dax Shepard plays John Lyshitski, a product of the prison system since age eight. He’s been in and out of prison several times and is able to spout impressive facts about the system he’s become so much a part of. This time out he decides to get revenge upon the judge who has sent him away so many times, only to find out the official passed away three days before John was released. Instead he turns his vengeance upon the judge’s son, Nelson Biederman IV (Will Arnett). A pompous prick, Biederman quickly falls into John’s trap and is sent away to prison himself. That’s not enough to meet John’s taste for revenge though, and the ex-con gets himself incarcerated again so that he can help Biederman get a real taste of what prison life is like, including corrupt guards, white supremacists, and a big, black lover (Chi McBride).
Maybe it’s the brilliant comedic timing of Shepard and Arnett, maybe it’s the style of director Bob Odenkirk, or maybe it’s the codeine-based cold medicine I took prior to seeing the movie, but something about Let’s Go To Prison worked for me. Sure, there are an excess of crude jokes involving toilet humor and used condoms in food, but there are also some interesting comments made about the actual legal system – such as the fact that a jury is made up of twelve people not bright enough to get out of jury duty. If the movie had gone for more poignant social commentary instead of jokes about gay prison sex, it might be a much more impressive movie. So while part of the film worked for me, it was only a small part.
Instead there are a lot of missed opportunities, beyond the pure social commentary the picture could have been. David Koechner, who has risen to become quite a name thanks to films like Thank You For Smoking and most of Will Ferrell’s recent career, is almost completely wasted here. We’ve seen his true potential unleashed in other films and this movie basically uses him as the cruel prison guard in a quick short shots with no real punchlines to his name, despite his fourth place billing. Dylan Baker is similarly misused, with his best moment appearing in the movie’s commercials and trailers. Let’s not ignore the fact that the plotline of Dax Shepard’s character starts out like an episode of “Punk’d,” ironic considering his first season participation in the show.
Let’s Go To Prison may wind up being one of the most forgettable comedies this year. The writing has a few good laughs mixed in with more typical prison humor, but it offers nothing really solid to set it aside from the other comedies we get each year. It might give you a couple of laughs; although even most of the good jokes will be forgotten long before the popcorn and soda from the film have left your system. While it may be one of the better films in the current Dax Shepard catalogue of work (which isn’t saying much), there’s really not much need to go to this Prison.