LET'S GO TO PRISONR
"Prison comedy" is not an oxymoron, although outside of Stir Crazy (1980), The Longest Yard (1974 and 2005) and possibly the P.O.W. dramedy Stalag 17 (1953), it's hard to think of any. And if you're lucky, you won't think of Let's Go to Prison at all. When the classic comedy trope of "fish out of water" doesn't work, all you're left with is a gasping, dying fish, and so this unfunny concoction didn't even make the Friday noon-show homeboys laugh. We know because we were there; Universal, having so much confidence in this first film from TV hit-factory Carsey-Werner ("The Cosby Show"), helpfully declined to screen it for critics.
Inspired by the prison-for-dummies book You Are Going to Prison by counterculture author Jim Hogshire--now out of print, with used paperbacks offered on Amazon for $250 to $600--this clumsy comedy finds prissy foundation head Nelson Biederman IV (Will Arnett of TV's "Arrested Development") unconvincingly railroaded into prison over the kind of misunderstanding that a simple doctor's note would have fixed. This happens via a revenge plan involving incredibly convoluted coincidence, engineered by a two-time loser with the oh-so-creative name of John Lyshitski (Dax Shepard, who actually does transcend the role with a confident, personable performance that makes his scuzzy creep not exactly likeable but certainly engaging). Lyshitski, feeling unsatisfied despite his coup, arranges to become cellmates with Biederman in order to get the innocent man killed in prison. Ho ho! Big laughs there!
The fact that Lyshitski had never met Biederman, and is only doing this because Biederman's late father was the judge who twice sent Lyshitski away, makes Biederman's inevitable fate of gross-out prison clichés as undeserved as they are predictable. Chi McBride, to his credit, conjures up an indelible and oddly sympathetic psycho who views prison rape as romantic seduction, but he and Shepard, good as they are, aren't worth sitting through 89 minutes that drag on like, well, a prison sentence. In one endless scene, the warden perplexingly tells the same joke three times in a row, as if actor Dylan Baker had given the filmmakers three takes and they'd decided to use them all.
The movie was shot at Illinois' famed Joliet Correctional Center, which closed as a holding prison in February 2002 and as an intake facility in March 2004. Now called the Joliet Complex, it's been the on-location site as well for the 2005 film Derailed and the first season of the TV show "Prison Break." Director Bob Odenkirk has a cameo as an inmate.