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MOVIE REVIEW

'Let's Go to Prison' is shackled by bad jokes, silly stereotypes

The title of "Let's Go to Prison" aptly sums up the experience of watching it: 84 minutes of hard time. Directed by comedian Bob Odenkirk (of "The Ben Stiller Show" and the beloved cult HBO series "Mr. Show"), it's a remarkably laugh-free comedy that takes on a dark subject and skitters along its surface.

Comic Dax Shepard ("Employee of the Month") plays John Lyshitsky (are you laughing yet?), a three-time loser who gets out of prison burning to avenge himself on the judge who sent him up. The judge has passed on, but his son lives: Nelson Biederman IV (Will Arnett of "Arrested Development"), a preening yuppie moneybags just begging to be taken down. John engineers Nelson's arrest on a robbery charge and gets himself busted too, just for the fun of torturing his new best friend and cellmate at Rossmore State Correctional Institute.

There's an interestingly ugly social comedy to be made about jail, but "Let's Go to Prison" isn't it. The gags are obvious and feces-obsessed, the characters one-note stereotypes, the pacing listless. It's a dopey movie made by smart people who should know better.

Dylan Baker ("Happiness") pops up looking appropriately embarrassed as the warden, and the all-purpose David Koechner is once again called upon to play a big stupid guy. The only genuine laughs come from Chi McBride ("Boston Public") as Barry, a hulking con who's actually a big old softie when it comes to Nelson, who he sees as his one true love.

McBride gets lovely feminine nuances out of his boilerplate lines, and he's the only one willing to acknowledge what "Let's Go to Prison" really is: a gay movie terrified to come out of the closet. Seriously, the homosexual panic on display here is worthy of a graduate seminar or two. Most audiences will show up expecting laughs, though. Move along, folks, there's nothing to see here.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com. His blog is at boston.com/ae/movies/blog.

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