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Movie review: 'Let's Go to Prison'

Elizabeth Weitzman
New York Daily News

We all understand why studios refuse to screen unpromising movies for critics in advance: They don't want to see a no-star review in the paper the day their picture opens. But lately, this avoidance approach has become an epidemic, and it's infecting films that don't deserve to be killed off quite so quickly.

Sure, Bob Odenkirk's loopy comedy "Let's Go to Prison" is unashamedly juvenile. And yes, it relies way too heavily on "don't drop the soap" jokes.

But as their fans know, Odenkirk and his actors - "Arrested Development's" Will Arnett and recent "Employee of the Month" Dax Shepard - can wring the funny out of the most dubious situations.

If you're looking for highbrow wit, take your money elsewhere. This is the kind of movie in which the tough-guy lead is named John Lyshitski (Shepard), and his snooty nemesis, Nelson Biederman IV (Arnett), is the proud owner of a license plate that reads Nelly 1.

Career criminal John wants revenge against the system, which has kept him locked up for years. His focus lands on Nelson, a judge's pampered son. So he gets Nelson locked up and becomes his cellmate, with the intention of taking him down.

At first, things go according to plan: Nelson is instantly targeted by everyone, from white supremacists to the oversized shower Romeo (Chi McBride, giving everything he's got). But much to John's horror, the balance of power suddenly shifts, and soon Nelson has the whole rec yard putting down their weights to practice tai chi.

According to movie Web site IMDb, Arnett has seven movies coming out within the next year. It seems safe, or at least optimistic, to assume that this is not going to be his high point. But he does make a consistently amusing Felix to Shepard's frustrated Oscar.

Although we could have expected more from the material - the book on which the movie is based, Jim Hogshire's "You Are Going to Prison," is sharper than any scene here - Odenkirk is an expert at the unexpected laugh. (This must be the first prison movie in which a cafeteria put-down involves the painter Lucian Freud.)

Besides, how can you pan a movie that so eagerly offers the sight of Arnett and McBride delicately sharing Eskimo kisses?

LET'S GO TO PRISON

2 stars

With Will Arnett, Dax Shepard, Chi McBride. Director: Bob Odenkirk. Running time: 1:29. R: Language, sexuality, drugs, violence.

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