Wednesday, November 22, 2006

"Let's Go to Prison" dir. Bob Odenkirk (Oklahoma Gazette)

Doing 84-minutes of maximum security time watching Bob Odenkirk’s “Let’s Go to Prison” has turned me into a hardened critic: I’d kill someone before I let him or her put me back into any joint showing it.

Face it, prison comedy isn’t a strong genre.

Remember Sidney Poitier’s 1980 “Stir Crazy,” starring Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder and, even worse, Ted Demme’s 1999 “Life” starring Martin Lawrence and Eddie Murphy? This film, built around the inherently funny idea of prison rape, pretends it’s satirizing the prison justice system for its complicity in making career criminals out of young offenders. It isn’t. Narration lines like, “It costs $54 a day to keep a person in prison. When you think about it, wouldn’t it be cheaper just to let us keep your car stereos?” suggest the film has a social point to make. It doesn’t. It’s just playing homophobia, racism, sexual assault, murder, white supremacy, gang behavior, bureaucratic cruelty and human brutality for laughs. Amused yet?

The revenge plot centers on John Lyshitski (Dax Shepard, “Employee of the Month”), who ends up in the first of three incarcerations for stealing the Publisher’s Clearinghouse van. The 8-year-old gets caught trying to cash the big cardboard check. His next two crimes land him in front of the same judge. When Lyshitski emerges from the third prison stay, the now vaguely 20-something decides to kill the man who has sentenced him so unfeelingly because, he believes, it’s the judge’s fault that he’s become the loser he is.

Here’s where the film gets really funny. The judge dies before Lyshitski can off him. Not to be stymied, he sets up the judge’s son, Nelson Biederman IV (Will Arnett, “Arrested Development”), so that he ends up in prison. Obnoxious rich boy Nelson’s license plate reads “Nelly 1,” a piece of visual/verbal wit almost as clever as the poster with the film’s title carved into a bar of soap on a shower floor. I’ll bet the writers tossed around at least once the idea of naming Arnett’s character Ben Dover before coming up with the sidesplitting Nelly idea. Not satisfied with just sending the innocent to the slammer, Lyshitski gets himself sent back so he can make hell hell for Nelson.

The hilarity really starts to kick in now. This burly, bass-talking black man named Barry (Chi McBride, “The Nine”) approaches Nelly in the shower and asks, “So what’s a beautiful white boy like you doing in a place like this?” A sensitive soul, he romantically woos Nelson rather than roughly raping him, and they become — I thought I’d die laughing — partners not in crime, but — Spoiler Alert — in wine. In the end — as the wits who wrote this might say — everyone lives happily ever after.

Almost as hysterical as the film is its official Web site. On it, you can explore all sorts of interactive prison-related activities like, “What Kind of Prisoner Are You?” and “Scratch Tattoo Parlor.”

I was sentenced to review “Let’s Go to Prison.” You have a choice. Don’t make the bad decisions I made. Stay free.


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