Based on the novel "You're Going to Prison," by Jim Hogshire, Let's Go to Prison is a silly comedy that skates by on goofy earnestness despite not really being about anything. It is a film that plays like a series of skits under the banner of slapstick revenge. Is it funny? Sure. Is it memorable? Not really. Is it worth seeing on the big screen? No, but it may be fun with some friends when it's out on DVD.
The story centers on John Lyshitski (Dax Shepard), a career criminal who has been in and out of correctional facilities since he was just a wee lad. Upon his most recent release, he sets out to share the pain of prison with the man responsible for his life path, Judge Nelson Biederman III. Unfortunately, he died a few days prior to his release. Still, fate is on his side as John finds the good judge has a son, Nelson Biederman IV (Will Arnett).
John sets out to share his love via proxy. Soon enough, Nelson is arrested and sent to prison. John, hoping to make sure that Nelson gets the full effect of the prison experience, gets himself arrested and assigned as Nelson's cellmate. There is the setup for the comedy that is yet to come.
The movie has a few funny moments, but it falters because there really aren't any characters to like. Nelson is not a nice guy. I was actually looking forward to the bad things that were going to happen to him. He is arrogant, he is obnoxious, and he deserves everything that he's got coming. Of course, nothing goes as planned. Lyshitski sets out to make sure he gets in as much trouble as possible.
All of the prison movie standards are there, rape jokes, white supremists, and the warden who fancies himself humorous. It is a movie that isn't nearly as funny as one would hope. It just seems to float along on the colorful characters that are paraded in front of the camera. The story itself is a slight matter, and I cannot believe that it was based on a novel.
While the story never comes together, it does bring up an interesting side of the serious. It brings up the idea of problems within our judicial system. This is nothing new; it is something that will most likely always be. It is a system that has flaws, but the alternatives never seem to be any better. In any case, the movie takes a look at the impact that early incarceration can have on a person.
If a young kid makes a mistake and gets sent to juvenile hall, or wherever, it can cement his future as a criminal. The path he began in freedom becomes cemented in the big house, leading to a life of crime with many stays in the pen. What if he was truly rehabilitated, or received some proper education, could this path of crime have been avoided?
Not all of the blame can be laid upon the system, but it surely doesn't help. Shepard's John Lyshitski is the example of a kid that could have been saved, but was let down by the system. He has reached his breaking point and decides to fight back and show what the system did to him by sharing it with the judge's son. Of course, this is a comedy and if everything went according to plan it would probably be quite dull. So, the plot has Nelson Biederman IV do quite well for himself, and actually ends up learning more about his true self than the outside world would allow him to see.
The movie looks like a low budget affair, and it is. It is a slapstick spoof on the prison film and has some great characters. Will Arnett is funny. This is almost an extension of his character on Arrested Development. Dax Shepard is turning into a solid comic actor. But when it comes down to it, the film is stolen by Chi McBride, who is hilarious as Barry, one of the cellblock rapists who makes a yummy Merlot in his toilet.
Bottomline. Funny in spurts, dull in gaps, but it does have a certain subversive energy to it that was rather infectious. It could have used another rewrite or two to bring a stronger focus, but it still is pretty entertaining. Not necessarily worthy of the big screen treatment, but will likely find a small fanbase once it hits DVD.