Let's Go To Prison

2006, Movie, R, 84 mins


Inspired by You Are Going to Prison, counterculture chronicler Jim Hogshire's 1994 survival guide for the soon-to-be-incarcerated, Bob Odenkirk's romp through the ups and downs of life in the big house actually does get funnier as it progresses — but it's not really a recommendation to say that the movie hits its stride shortly before the end credits. The real trouble lies in the first 45 some-odd minutes, which range from tedious to flat-out repellent. Three-time loser John Lyshitski (Dax Shepard), who's been in and out of prison since he was 8, has a plan to make life a living hell for Judge Biederman (David Darlow), who keeps putting him away. Unfortunately for him, Judge Biederman has just died. But Biederman's beloved son, Norbert Biederman IV (Arrested Development's Will Arnett), is still alive and well, and ripe for railroading. John can scarcely contain his glee at the thought of spoiled, arrogant rich-boy Norbert getting a taste of deprivation, boredom, random violence, sexual assault and day-to-day humiliation. That is, until he realizes that his simply knowing that Norbert is in the slammer isn't enough: He has to see it. So John gets himself thrown back into jail — not that it takes much doing — and calls in favors to make sure they're cellmates. Then he makes sure Norbert does everything wrong, like snitching out the psycho white supremacist (Michael Shannon) who shivved another inmate in the cafeteria. Yes indeed, Norbert's life will be a living hell, especially after John sells him to Barry (Chi McBride, who reveals an unexpected flair for comedy). And then the unbelievable happens: Norbert gets a couple of lucky breaks and suddenly he's top dog — how unfair can life be? The earlier part of the film presumably cleaves closer to the grimly practical tone of Hogshire's book, which aimed to prepare the prison-bound for the realities of brutal beatings, rape and degradation, none of which are particularly funny topics. Once Norbert's fortunes turn, however, things become significantly less grim and more amusing, if not laugh-out-loud funny. The sad thing is that Arnett, Shepard and McBride quickly establish a loose, easy camaraderie that's a real pleasure to watch. The shame is that they're working with such unrewarding material. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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