Mr. Show fans will probably want to pretend Bob Odenkirk's Let's Go To Prison doesn't exist, and Odenkirk and star Will Arnett will probably want to treat it as what Jason Bateman calls a "résumé-eraser." Odenkirk's grim second directorial effort combines the laughter of a prison drama with the psychological authenticity of a lowbrow comedy. It's an indifferently filmed pitch-black comedy shrouded in a pervasive grey funk that swallows up what few meager chuckles it manages.
Like Fast Food Nation, Let's Go To Prison is a fictional film based on a non-fiction book (Jim Hogshire's You Are Going To Prison) that regularly doles out factoids of information and philosophy, largely through Dax Shepard's voiceover narration. Sadly, these nuggets of jailhouse trivia prove the best part of the film. Audiences may not be amused or entertained, but at least they'll learn a little about prison life. Former Punk'd punker Shepard stars as a laconic sociopath who frames Arnett, the prissy blueblood son of the judge who repeatedly sent Shepard to jail. Then he gets himself tossed into the slammer so he can further torment Arnett. But since Shepard doesn't seem to feel he belongs anywhere but jail, it doesn't make sense that he'd go to such extreme lengths to punish someone who wasn't even directly responsible for his incarceration. In a performance that will probably not be remembered come NAACP Image Awards time, Chi McBride co-stars as a romantic cellmate eager to make Arnett his loving bitch.
Over the course of Prison's dreary runtime, a curious reversal occurs, as anti-hero Shepard gradually becomes the muddled villain, while muddled villain Arnett emerges as the low-wattage anti-hero. But since Shepard isn't much of an anti-hero, and Arnett isn't much of a heavy, the reversal doesn't have much impact. Prison offers the dispiriting spectacle of talented people working far beneath their potential. Watching Odenkirk and Arnett try to eke laughs out of this barren material is like listening to the remaining Beatles bash out Muzak covers of their early hits. Hogshire's book offered armchair cons a voyeuristic glimpse into prison life, but Prison makes its 84-minute running time feel like a five-year sentence with no chance for parole.