Pros & Cons (1999, USA)

Pros & Cons - Larry Miller as Ben Babbitt, acting tough and being treated as 'royalty'

It might not be the best recommendation to say that this wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I had expected. One review had it marked down as ‘hideous’ and another* concluded that it was so beset with problems that it ’should stay in lock-up, with no eligibility for parole.’ And it’s true; the ending is an absolute shocker, and the 20-second Jerry Seinfeld-Paul Reiser cameo is terrible. But the rest of the film is on a par with lots of other pretty average prison comedies - amongst them Stir Crazy (1980), with which this shares quite a lot. Not the rodeo, thankfully.

Ben Babbitt (Larry Miller) is a boring accountant from what would appear to be a long line of boring accountants, all of whom have worked with the one firm. He’s decent and awfully capable, but uncool, clumsy and socially inept: a nerd. When he picks up on some strange activity in one of the company accounts, his new boss and his new boss’s ambitious wife realise that he is a threat to them fleecing millions from the company, and frame him for some unlawful financial transactions. He cops 15 years. Threat is effectively neutralised.

Elsewhere, Ron Carter (Tommy Davidson) is about to start his first day in a new job as a maître d’ when four similarly tuxedoed armed robbers hijack his car and use it as their getaway vehicle. They don’t get far. The robbers, all Korean, punish him for his poor Police evasion skills and refuse to tell the arresting officers that the African American driver wasn’t part of their crew.

New fish Babbitt and Carter, both innocent, arrive in prison together. Babbitt makes an immediate impression. He starts by tripping while getting out of the van - and by accident nearly strangles ‘Big Jim’, a huge African American who had already put the threateners on him. Guards and prisoners alike start to be wary of the dangerous accountant. Called before prison’s Mr Big, Kyle (Delroy Lindo), Babbitt stumbles twice more, first breaking Big Jim’s nose and then falling in the way of a knife, thrown by a white supremacist and intended for Kyle, the boss of the African American crew. Kyle is admiring and grateful; Babbitt has prison royalty bestowed upon him.

But he’s still a nerd. He is coached by his cellmate, Carter, who is no better acquainted with what goes down in prison but has enough street smarts to know when to keep quiet and how not to draw attention to yourself… but it makes little difference. Still, Babbitt can do no wrong.

Kyle, his sponsor, is a very powerful man. Not only can he anoint other prisoners as untouchable but he has one guard in his pocket and his own private retreat in the bowels of the prison, reminiscent of the one in 1990’s Death Warrant. Do movie makers really believe these might exist? Do they exist?

Carter, keen to build upon his good fortune in being Babbitt’s cellmate, encourages Kyle to use the accountant’s computing skills to manage the $50 million he has tucked away in various bank accounts. Kyle, naturally, has access to the prison’s computer system, which is conveniently unstaffed, and Babbitt is able to go on-line, lose the $50 mill, steal it back from his crooked ex-employer, and lose it again. He’s also able to program the opening of the prison’s gates so that Kyle can escape. Maybe that computer room should have been manned, after all. Yes, it all sort of goes downhill from there…

Pros & Cons does make some less common observations about prison, though. The bland, bumbling Babbitt is seduced by his importance and the attention he receives in prison, and is a bit reluctant to leave; and it’s true that prison commonly confers upon inadequate men a status within prison that they could never hope to achieve outside it. A bit earlier, Babbitt and Carter laugh themselves stupid at a fellow prisoner hanging himself; their capacity to embrace the blackest of humour and their rapid desensitization to the horrors of their environment is not unknown in prison, either.

This is not a terrible movie. It relies, as plenty of prison movies like Stir Crazy, Go for Broke (2002) and Half Past Dead 2 (2007) have before and since, on racial couplings and stereotypes that are a bit ho hum. The humour is unsophisticated and the plot predictable.. but it’s largely inoffensive. And nowhere near as bad as I’d expected.

Pros & Cons #2 - Delroy Lindo as Pros & Cons #3 - Tommy Davidson as Ron and Larry Miller as Ben

*Cheryl De Wolfe in the Apollo Guide

Posted on October 25th, 2010 at 10:22 pm. Updated on October 25th, 2010 at 10:22 pm.

#244 in the Top 500

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