When a comedy isn't screened for critics, you can expect a rough ride. "Let's Go to Prison," directed by Bob Odenkirk (of TV's "Mr. Show") and written by several folks involved with "Reno 911!," "Herbie: Fully Loaded" and "Taxi" — the Jimmy Fallon disaster, not the TV show — is just as bumpy as you'd guess.
The gag here is that a vengeful ex-con gets the annoying yuppie son of his tormentor sent to the pen. How John (Dax Shepard of "Employee of the Month") manages this requires the usual mainlining of serendipity juice and suspension of disbelief. But audiences will probably need to ingest something even stronger to find this movie funny.
John's victim, blue-blood jerk Nelson (Will Arnett of TV's "Arrested Development"), spends most of the rest of the film trying to avoid what will be described in this family newspaper as a "shower incident."
It's the laugh riot you always thought "Shawshank Redemption" could be. Minus the nonstop hilarity.
And "Shawshank" isn't the movie's only blueprint: John masquerades as Nelson's friend while actually torturing him ("Jean de Florette," anyone?), and because this is purportedly a comedy, outsider Nelson is bound to eventually become one of the cool kids (see any number of teen operas).
There are sporadic laughs in "Let's Go to Prison," but not nearly enough to carry a whole film. When Nelson asserts himself to another convict, he says, "I don't take no crap from any Lucian Freud-looking like you!" Unfortunately, such moments are few and far between.
Because the movie can't bring itself to take that leap into full-on absurdity, the characters and comic opportunities stay confined to their cells.
MPAA rating: R for language, sexual content, some violence and drug material. Running time: 84 minutes.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times