Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Let's Go to Prison (2006) review

While Sascha Cohen's 'Borat' may be the most-popular comedy of 2006, there is an even funnier one, and it's this movie! Astonishingly, Universal distributed this little indie, but has given it virtually no publicity whatsoever. That must have been the trade-off, because it's a pretty uncompromising story that could be compared-to Richard Linklater's Fast Food Nation. Directed by Bob Odenkirk (Mr. Show, SNL-writer during the Phil Hartman era, Ben Stiller Show, Conan O'Brien), it's an interesting-take on our corrections system, and it's loosely-based on a non-fiction book called 'You Are Going to Prison', by a former inmate named Jim Hogshire. Much of his humor is intact in the film, but writers Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon have taken it into the realm of fiction/non-fiction . The book was literally just a 'how-to' guide to survival in prison, so you know this isn't going to be a flattering-portrayal of it. Most Americans know full-well their prison system is corrupt, and basically dysfunctional, but our culture has a lust for punishment at its core. Don't believe me? Let's go to prison, and find-out!

The movie makes the case by stating we have 2 million Americans in-prison now, only being surpassed by China and Russia. But this bloodlust is most-obvious during our elections, mostly the local-ones, though Reagan and Bush thrived on the 'crime-and-punishment' issue. And man-oh-man, is there some punishment in the first-quarter of this movie, wow, it really was only slightly-funny until...the story has some very unpredictable and hilarious twists to it! Odenkirk did the Midwest proud by placing the tale in Illinois, and they filmed the prison-scenes at the old Joliet Prison.

There is a scene with the warden of the facility that is priceless ('Take all of your complaints, write them on a piece of paper--and stick it up-your-asshole.'). In a few-areas, it's almost too-close to reality, but this changes as the story progresses.The movie begins with the story of repeat-felon, John Lyshitski (played to-the-hilt by Dax Shepard who plays rednecks alot) who is unfairly put on a path to crime by a certain judge at the age of 8. He has what is euphemistically called 'bad-luck', and gets snared into the system like so many others in America.

Judge Biederman just keeps sending him further-and-further into the corrections system, much like what happened to make John Dillinger a gangster, and untold-scores of minor-offenders into murderers. Because we are so harsh in our penalties here, we actually have created a situation where felons are manufactured. Let's Go to Prison makes this point many-times throughout the film, but it does it with a lot of laughs at the expense of the story's other protagonist, Nelson Biederman IV (played by the brilliant and funny Will Arnett from Arrested Development), the son of the judge. Lyshitski gets-released at the beginning of the film, and we get a voiceover of his story. The man wants revenge, but he realizes that judge Biederman died three-days-before his release, so he decides to take-it-out on his son instead. Like I said, the first-quarter of the movie is grim!

Lyshitski is constantly giving Biederman the worst advice you could give to someone imprisoned, and the plot takes a radical-turn in a confrontation between the judge's son and an Ayran Nations gang-leader that must be seen to be believed. The worm-turns for Biederman, the pathetic yuppie-fop who loves the 1990s pop-tune 'Shake That Body', and Lyshitski is in for quite a ride as his target becomes the 'big man' in the joint. It just gets funnier, and telling you any more would just ruin the ride for you, but you get a greater understanding of life in prison.

This was something I never expected, because...well, we all think we've seen-it-all with prison movies, but Let's Go to Prison goes further than all of them! From Biederman getting-punched everyday, to his being-sold to a Black inmate called 'Barry' (the always-great Chi McBride) for an ounce-of-pot and a carton-of -smokes, to their ongoing 'courting', it's hilarious. It also has an ending for the ages that I would personally love to see in real-life! If the movie says anything, it's that the criminal justice and corrections system is a joke on all of us, and it actually finds some hilarity in this fact. That's a tall order that it fills, no-problem. Flawed, but hilarious. Score.