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Movie Review

Pot-smoking slacker John Lyshitski is on a first-name basis with the residents and staff of Illinois' Rossmore State Penitentiary. In and out of cells since he was a boy, John always seems to steal the wrong car at the wrong time.

He doesn't blame himself, of course. He blames a certain judge for his repeated incarceration. So he plots revenge. Newly released from his latest stint behind bars, he sets his scheme in motion, only to learn that the old man died three days earlier of natural causes. Frustrated, John sets his sights on the judge's son, a spoiled rich guy needing to be taken down a few pegs.

To be sure, Nelson Biederman IV is a world-class jerk. When a chaotic episode in a drug store lands the selfish preppie in court and (after an unsuccessful attempt at dropping names and having his case dismissed) in Rossmore, John intentionally gets himself sent back to the pen so that he can make Nelson's world even more miserable.

Positive Elements

In several scenes, prisoners show a fraternal devotion to one another. Nelson's history of treating people badly comes back to haunt him when those closest to him resist the temptation to pull strings and get him released. While that models bad behavior on the part of both, it reinforces the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." Prison life is not glamorized, but presented as a dangerous, frightening place where inmates anxiously look over their shoulders 24/7 for the duration of their sentences. (Men are referred to as "pieces of meat in a grinder.") It is a den of distrust and violence with occasional bouts of mind-numbing solitude.

Spiritual Content

A nun governs a parochial school class. The opening montage, a parade of celebrity criminals, pictures evangelist Jim Bakker just as the song playing over it makes a sarcastic statement about the Bible saving souls. Tempted to leave someone for dead, Nelson has his mind changed when a friend tells him it would invite bad karma.

Sexual Content

A pole dancer is seen in the background at a bar. Sexual remarks range from pornography and masturbation to prom-night escapades and prison rape. Lots of graphic sodomy references. Barry (a slumming Chi McBride) is the prison romantic, a large, disturbed dude who takes a fancy to Nelson and has numerous scenes in which he propositions or emotionally abuses the object of his homosexual affection. Nevertheless, the two become (very) close friends by the film's end, implying that they've grown to share similar passions. A poster in Barry's cell shows human silhouettes demonstrating sexual positions. John reads a girlie mag with "Foreplay" printed on the back cover. There's brief rear male nudity in a shower. Speaking of that setting, a song over the closing credits repeats the line, "I wanna take a shower with you."

Violent Content

John takes out his anger on a public phone booth by hand and by firing a gun at it. He also discharges a weapon at guards, missing badly from close range. An aging couple pull shotguns and shoot indiscriminately, fearing that their store is under siege. Guards abuse prisoners, shocking them with tasers, hitting them in the stomach with rifle butts and threatening to kill the winner of a fight to the death.

When sweet talk fails, Barry uses force to express his passion for Nelson, choking him, pulling a knife and threatening to castrate him. Prisoners are constantly punching each other. It's suggested that they'll also murder one another over petty issues, and a scuffle between John and Nelson leads to an arranged death match between them. During that fight, both pull sharp implements as weapons. One blade gets hurled and imbedded in the chest of a spectator.

Lynard, an inmate who has swastikas tattooed on his body, heads a violent neo-Nazi clique. He starts a fight in the cafeteria, stabs Nelson in each leg with a pair of forks (he stabs one of his cronies as well) and describes how he killed his own father with a hammer. When he corners Nelson in his cell, the two punch, kick and claw, drawing blood before Lynard gets carted out in a body bag.

Crude or Profane Language

The script is loaded with brutal language. Of the nearly 100 profane, obscene or crass expressions, "g--d--n" (a dozen), the s-word (two dozen) and the f-word (about 20) stand out. They're joined by harsh anatomical slang and milder interjections. Nelson writes to a young pen-pal who reads his expletive-laced letters aloud in school.

Drug and Alcohol Content

John drinks beer at a bar. He and other characters smoke cigarettes, which are also used as currency in jail. He and his buddies smoke a joint. One pal offers him cocaine.

John gets busted for knowingly selling marijuana to a pair of undercover cops. And he puts Rohypnol in a soda to knock out Nelson. Both take a drug that puts them in a three-day coma. Tempted to take his own life, Nelson fills a syringe with boat cleaner, but before he can do the deed a prison bully shoots up with it instead, thinking he's injecting himself with a recreational drug.

There's a crack about heroin-flavored ice cream. Weed factors into a bargain between John and Barry. Barry and others drink a wine concoction mixed up in the toilet, a beverage they later replicate for mass-consumption when they buy a vineyard together.

An inmate runs an unauthorized apothecary shop out of his cell.

Other Negative Elements

Juvenile, gross-out humor includes John secretly spitting in Nelson's coffee, Nelson being urinated on, and a prophylactic turning up in a man's cafeteria food. John sabotages Nelson's inhaler.

A white supremacist uses the disparaging term "coon." There's a general disrespect for the law and authority figures, not that the ones in this film appear to deserve much. The warden and his men abuse their authority, while a judge degrades a young boy. One guard runs a not-so-secret gambling operation, attempting to profit from the inmates' conflicts. John pays fellow prisoners to abuse Nelson, driving him to consider suicide. Nelson declines to tell Lynard that he's about to inject himself with poison, which results in the man's death.


Twenty-six years after Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor drove fellow inmates Stir Crazy, another R-rated prison comedy arrives that feels more sinister and vindictive. In addition to having no one to root for in this sophomoric, antisocial time bandit, Let's Go to Prison trots out one lame gag after another that will only appeal to disenfranchised, incarcerated or intoxicated audiences.

Lazy writing and mean-spirited humor are the rule here. And after five seasons and three award nominations for his work as a high school principal on the Fox series Boston Public, Chi McBride allows himself to be stranded at the center of a sodomy subplot in this repeat offender. It's an embarrassment that can only be explained as the settlement of a lost bet. After all, one don't-bend-over-in-the-shower joke is one too many.

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Will Arnett as Nelson Biederman IV, Dax Shepard as John Lyshitski; Chi McBride as Barry; David Koechner as Shanahan; Michael Shannon as Lynard; Dylan Baker as The Warden


Bob Odenkirk ( )


Universal Pictures



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Bob Smithouser

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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