When I was a high school freshman, my social studies class took a field trip to the local minimum security prison. Being that this was a group of 15-year-olds, I remember someone making the obvious “don’t drop the soap” joke. While the movie is occasionally a bit above that type of gag, it still remains that if you find that kind of humor clever, then Let’s Go to Prison just might be your thing. If not, then you’ll probably want to look elsewhere.
The only thing that really saves the movie is the fact that it never enters the realm of painfully unfunny (name any movie where Rob Schneider is the lead, and you get the idea), and there is nary a joke involving defecation, which seems to be a rarity these days. However, that doesn’t change the fact that most of the gags just fall flat. There are a few bright spots, such as a joke about a seven million dollar original Yoko Ono sculpture that has been bought for a park in a lower class part of town, and what seems to be an almost bizarrely subtle reference to Taxi Driver (1976) in the same sequence, but these moments are rare. Seeing as how the movie is a comedy, actually being funny would conceivably help.
The plot follows John Lyshitski (Dax Shepard, Employee of the Month), an ex-con who’s been in and out of prison since childhood. He decides, after being released from prison for the third time, that he is going to get revenge on Judge Nelson Biederman III (David Darlow, The Weather Man), the man who keeps sending him away to the hoosegow. It’s not until he finds out the judge recently died from a heart attack that he decides instead to lay his vengeance upon the judge’s yuppie son Biederman IV (Will Arnett, RV). Though Lyshitski manages to get the son thrown into prison, he isn’t satisfied with this outcome, and so decides to get himself thrown into prison as well to make sure that Biederman IV doesn’t get it easy.
From there, the movie is a hodgepodge of cliched prison jokes, from making license plates to toilet wine to using cigarettes as currency. It’s everything anyone has ever heard about prison. It’s surprising then that the movie itself is never really all that offensive, despite the fact that it could have effortlessly taken the easy route and just filled itself with an endless string of gay jokes. Instead, the gay relationship between Biederman and fellow prisoner Barry (Chi McBride, Annapolis) is handled tastefully and somewhat maturely. This isn’t to say that the movie makes any great strides for gay rights, but it could have definitely been worse.
While the movie isn’t bad, it certainly isn’t good either. The direction by Bob Odenkirk (best known for his work on the HBO series Mr. Show) is adequate, but for this type of material it doesn’t really need to be anything other than that. Shepard is thankfully somewhat subdued, instead of falling into the trap of trying to be funny. Still, as a comedy, it’s just too slight to really be anything other than middling. Rated R for language, sexual content, some violence and drug material.
– reviewed by Justin Souther