I have nothing to fear when it comes to my arty-farty street cred. Even if the internet gangs up on me, rending its garments and gnashing its teeth over this review, I've got two Criterion discs and an Oscar-nominee from China in my queue. The blood of Zhang Yimou's fallen soldiers will wash all my sins away.
Unlike just about every other critic on the planet, I thought Let's Go To Prison was really funny. Yes, it's crass. Yes, its story is about as old as prisons themselves, as are many of the subjects for gags. You're not going to have a jailhouse comedy that doesn't have a few scenes with jokes about one man raping another. If you can't laugh at prison rape--and if not, then what can you laugh at, pray tell?--then this movie isn't going to be up your alley (no pun intended). If, on the other hand, you don't find the concept inherently unfunny, and if you like Will Arnett (Arrested Development), Dax Shepard (Idiocracy), and the comedy stylings of Mr. Show's Bob Odenkirk, who both directed this movie and has a small role in it, then I don't see why you can't expect some good chuckles out of Let's Go To Prison.
The plot here is pretty simple. Shepard plays John Lyshitski, a hapless three-time loser who keeps getting sent up the river by the same smartass judge. (Amazingly, the filmmakers show incredible restraint when it comes to jokes about the name Lyshitski.) After his third release, John decides to take a little revenge on the man he blames for sticking him in the harsh prison system. Only, it's too late, the barrister has passed on, so John turns his attentions to the man's son, Nelson Beiderman IV (Arnett). John inadvertently helps his foe into a frame-up that gets him convicted, but getting Nelly incarcerated isn't satisfying enough as vengeance. So, John gets himself locked up so he can make Nelly's time as an inmate a living hell. He bribes himself into the same cell and pretends to be the rich boy's friend, all the while setting traps that will lead to Nelly getting the crap kicked out of him. Naturally, Nelly manages to pick up some kind of good luck charm, inadvertently foiling John's plans in classic comedy fashion and pitting the two men in a battle of obnoxious wills.
I don't know what the beef with this movie is. Bob Odenkirk was clearly weaned on the raunchy post-SNL comedies of the late '70s and early '80s, and he's shooting for a no-holds-barred adult comedy that isn't afraid to be a little silly and totally adolescent. Shepard and Arnett work well together as the slick career criminal and the hapless stooge, and there were multiple times where I considered jotting down lines to quote at the top of this review. I know I'm going to start heckling friends by chanting, "Eskimo! Eskimo!" whether they know what I'm talking about or not.
I don't want to oversell this. Let's Go To Prison wasn't even close to being the funniest movie I would have seen last year, nor would it even have made my top 25 list. But who cares? I doubt that's what this movie was aiming for anyway. It wanted to make me laugh, and I did. Often, too.
It helps that the supporting cast is rounded out by David Koechner (Anchorman's sport reporter), character actor Dylan Baker (the Spider-Man series), and Boston Public's Chi McBride, a man with maybe the most imposing cranium ever. McBride is particularly funny, subverting the role you would expect him to play with a couple of left turns that make his character more than the big black guy who pushes the little white guy around. He steals several of the best laughs from Arnett and Shepard, which is no mean feat.
So, screw it, I don't care if everyone else hated Let's Go To Prison. I got exactly what I wanted to out of it. It's a comedy, it doesn't need to be taken all that seriously. Just pop it in, sit back, and enjoy.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is on par with most of the major studio releases I've seen in recent memory. Nice colors, no glitches, a clean move over to DVD.
You have your choice of English, French, and Spanish 5.1 mixes of Let's Go To Prison, as well as subtitles in all three languages. I stuck to the English. It sounded fine, no great shakes to the good or the bad, really.
The main extra on the Let's Go To Prison DVD is the most imperceptible. When you fire up the movie, you are offered the choice of an Unrated version or the original R-rated theatrical release. I'll admit, I didn't watch both, I just watched the Unrated. I compared the running times, and they are exactly the same, and I've looked around online and can't find any info about what might be different. From what I can tell, the only major difference is that the Unrated version has a framing intro/outro where a "real life" sheriff gives us a mock "scared straight" context akin to old instructional films they'd show us in school. In all, the new pieces total about 2 minutes and 10 seconds. If that's really the only change, it may be one of the more shameless mis-uses of the unrated tag I've seen yet.
Other extras include an alternate ending (3:31) and two deleted scenes (4:30). The deleted scenes are minor and probably wouldn't have helped the flow of the movie, and while the alternate ending is more cynical, I think I actually prefer what Odenkirk went with.
There is also a six-minute feature on the "Soundtrack Sessions." I have to say, I didn't notice the music in the movie, so this was a surprise. It focuses on the session musicians, most of whom are far too qualified for the job, having worked with Motown legends and other famous acts over the years. Rahzel, an excellent human beatbox formerly with the Roots and who has worked with Bjork, among others, was also involved.
Though much maligned when in theatres, if this critic has anything to say about it, Let's Go To Prison is going to find a second life on DVD. Yeah, this lowbrow comedy isn't the most noble of cinematic efforts, but since most of my hate mail tells me to lighten up anyway, wouldn't a lot of you point out that not every movie has to be? When it comes to comedy, you can really only judge by your gut: did the movie make you laugh or not? Let's Go To Prison made me laugh. So, rock on, Bob Odenkirk! You delivered! Recommended.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.