The Good: Deliciously crass, Funny, Generally original
The Bad: Light on character, Light on acting, Light on DVD bonus features
The Basics: Funny and decent over multiple viewings, Let’s Go To Prison is more crude humor than social commentary and more average than extraordinary.
If it seems like my quest to watch all of the movies that have won Best Picture has been broken up by a rather obscure collection of movies, this is because my partner and I have vastly different standards and desires for our movies. She has absolutely no interest in joining me on going through all of the movies that won Best Picture and I have a pretty strong desire to make peace and spend time with her. So, when she picks the film we will watch for a night, she dips into her collection and we end up seeing a ridiculous comedy, like Let’s Go To Prison.
To be fair, Let’s Go To Prison is a movie I have wanted to see because I have heard some pretty wonderful things about it. All I honestly knew about it going into the film was that it featured Will Arnett and that everyone who I know who has seen it has said it was hilarious, including my partner. Having now seen it twice, I agree the film is funny, but like a lot of comedies the humor does not hold up incredibly well upon multiple viewings. While I appreciate the film, Let’s Go To Prison is actually a fairly average comedy. It is good, but it trades quite a bit on shock value for humor and as a result holds up less well than the initial impact might suggest.
John Lyshitski is a petty criminal who is busted rather early in his life for a minor infraction and he ends up going to juvenile detention, thanks to judge Nelson Biederman III. After a life in and out of prison, Lyshitski serves his last sentence and ends up on the outside ready to perform acts of revenge against the judge whom he feels has robbed him of most of his life. Unfortunately for him, Biederman III has died and Lyshitski decides to revenge himself upon Nelson Biederman IV. High strung and needing medication, Biederman IV breaks into a pharmacy and his expensive legal team refuses to back him, so Nelson Biederman IV is sentenced to prison. Feeling bad, but seeing an opportunity to continue his torment of Biederman, Lyshitski gets himself arrested and sentenced to the same place as Biederman.
On the inside, Lyshitski appears to befriend Biederman while tormenting him as much as possible. Lyshitski arranges for Biederman to become the "property" of Barry, the resident hulking, yet sensitive guy. As Biederman tries to wrangle with his legal team to get set free, Lyshitski continues to pay off others to beat on his nemesis. But in a freak accident, Biederman kills the head of the jail's white supremacists. This makes Biederman the new alpha in the prison yard and he and Lyshitski come to blows, which puts them in a dangerous position when the chief jailer arranges a fight to the death between them.
Let’s Go To Prison is funny, but it is frequently crude. Much of the humor is very stereotypically masculine, with jokes being filthy and revolving around crude sex jokes ("Did you have to put a finger up my ass?" "No. . . but it happened") and surprise violence, like Biederman getting punched in the face abruptly. The humor is, fortunately, not as violence oriented as something like Observe And Report. But, most of the humor hinges on being gross or shocking for how far over the line it appears ready to go.
The most unsettling incident of this type of humor comes when Biederman first visits Barry's cell. In that scene, the viewer clenches for the inevitable bit of rough prison sex that has been telegraphed from almost the first moment Barry entered the film. Here, though, is where Let’s Go To Prison actually manages to be surprising for a film of its type. Instead of being predictable and horrific, the scene is resolved with an anticlimax that is far funnier. This is one of the scenes that actually holds up better on the second or third viewing as the viewer knows that the tension is playing out for a wonderful punchline, as opposed to something truly excruciating.
But Let’s Go To Prison is otherwise a remarkably straightforward movie with little to no actual character development. Lyshitski is an unlikable protagonist and his desire for revenge upon the Biederman family is cruel and often ridiculous. As well, Biederman the Fourth is hardly likable as he is constantly stressed and yelling at everyone until the moment he is imprisoned and broken. And then, the viewer's reaction to Biederman's plight is much more a generic human reaction to seeing suffering than actually empathizing with Biederman on a specific character level. Biederman suffers and we do not feel he deserves it, but we also do not care much for him as a person as he was not much of a decent guy before he was arrested.
In this regard, the surprise of Let’s Go To Prison comes in how likable Barry ultimately is. The giant who appears to menace Biederman is actually all he appears to be. He's a sweet guy who is looking to rehabilitate and find love in the world. As such, he actually becomes a surprisingly decent character by the standards of being a positive gay character. Unlike most prison movies with gay sex being the result of loneliness or hate, Barry is motivated by exactly what he appears to be: love. He's smitten with Biederman and this leads him to take the risks he does for him.
Barry is played by Chi McBride and were it not for Waiting. . . (reviewed here!), this would probably have been a shockingly different role for McBride, who is often cast in dignified roles. But he makes the role of Barry work and he illustrates just what a great actor he can be by selling the role perfectly. Unfortunately, the rest of the acting is more the result of inspired casting than anything else. Will Arnett is essentially replaying Gob - his Arrested Development (reviewed here!) character - in a new setting. As well, Dax Shepard, who plays Lyshitski, is playing what he virtually always plays, a twentysomething slacker who is pretty much the worst stereotype of characters that age. Having seen very few things with Shepard, it is disappointing how familiar his performance here seems.
On DVD, Let’s Go To Prison is presented in an unrated form so the language and sex-jokes are pretty explicit. However, one of the bonus features allows viewers to see the original version of the film. Outside that, the only bonus features are fairly explicit deleted scenes and they are VERY funny. Anyone who enjoys the rest of the film will love the bonus scenes.
Let’s Go To Prison is a fun comedy, but it is very average. While it is one of my partner's favorite movies, I enjoy it, but it is objectively far more ordinary than than it is extraordinary. Still, it is worth watching; those who like it will find it is worth the buy as it does stand up over multiple viewings.
For other works featuring Dax Shepard, please check out my reviews of:
Parenthood - Season 1
Without A Paddle
For other movie reviews, be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page!
© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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