Penitentiary 2 (1982)
By: Julian on April 15, 2008  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Dark Horse Entertainment (Australia). All Regions, PAL. 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0. 103 minutes
The Movie
Director: Jamaa Fanaka
Starring: Leon Isaac Kennedy, Ernie Hudson, Mr T, Malik Carter, Cepheus Jaxon
Screenplay: Jamaa Fanaka
Country: USA
External Links
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Jamaa Fanaka's follow-up to his 1979 hit urban blaxploitation film Penitentiary is more of a shameless cash-in than a sequel, with an exponential decrease of all the qualities that made the original what it was.

A lazy, overly long crawl opens Penitentiary 2, and we are told our hero Too Sweet (Leon Isaac Kennedy reprising his role) is paroled from the titular location for a murder he alleges he didn't commit (though we see him do it in the first film). On the outside, Too Sweet lives with his sister and does janitor work at a local boxing ring operated by Mr T (playing himself), but he vows never to pick up the gloves again. After rekindling his romance with the woman he left on the outside, the beautiful Clarisse (but didn't Too Sweet get into all of this trouble in the first place because of a hooker that picked him up?), things are finally looking peachy for the embattled ex-con. However, Too Sweet's peaceful existence is shattered when his arch nemesis, the brutal Half Dead (played by Ernie Hudson this time around) weasels himself out from behind bars, breaks into Too Sweet's house and rapes and murders Clarisse. The two have a bit of a wrestle and Half Dead finds himself at the pointy end of the stick.

Justice doesn't last long though, and Half Dead's homies stage a daring hospital breakout, allowing the sadistic killer to plot and execute his devious revenge against Too Sweet. However, Too Sweet himself has vengeance on his mind and decides to return to the ring under the mentorship of Mr T and his old boxing coach, the recently released Seldom Seen (Malik Carter). After weeks of gruelling training, Too Sweet returns to the penitentiary to fight, in so doing luring Half Dead out of hiding.

Penitentiary 2 is far from a good film – it's overlong and the acting is pretty poor, despite showcasing some genuine cult icons (among the best appearances is Tony Cox (Bad Santa) playing a horny incarcerated midget, and blaxploitation icon Rudy Ray Moore of Dolemite fame in a welcome cameo role). Even Leon Isaac Kennedy, who performed so solidly in Penitentiary seems to be phoning it in with the appalling delivery of some equally dire lines from Fanaka's screenplay. What was commendable about the original film was that, despite having a rock-bottom budget, Fanaka made it look like he was working with far more money than he actually was – but that's not the case here. Penitentiary 2 is bargain-basement stuff, and it certainly looks the part. The result of this sequel is a shame because Jamaa Fanaka is a very good director. In my review of Penitentiary, I lauded Fanaka for his talents, which were also realised in his earlier films Soul Vengeance and Black Sister's Revenge. But there's an uncharacteristic emptiness in Fanaka here, and he doesn't seem to be invested in this work as much as his previous pictures. However, Penitentiary 2 carries a cheesy charm that emerges during the film's pivotal scenes, but these are few and far between.

While it may not as bad as what some critics would have you think, Penitentiary 2 is certainly a shadow of its predecessor. Unlike Penitentiary, which was dubiously lauded for its social commentary, Penitentiary 2 plays it straight (or, as some may consider it, simply goes back to the well) and fails to distinguish itself from a typical dumb eighties action flick. It isn't a particularly violent or otherwise explicit film, a fact that failed to satiate the grisly appetites of the Grindhouses that loved Penitentiary – despite carrying an R18+ restriction, Penitentiary 2 is far milder than its MA15+ predecessor. It's likely that Clarissa's rape and murder, which in the most part was implicit, may have bumped the classification up. According to a 2007 interview with Fanaka, the director was in negotiations with a 'major studio' to direct Penitentiary IV. There's no doubting the man's talent as a director, but he would do well to work with some original material for this film to prevent it from languishing in the same unoriginal abyss as Penitentiary 2.

Blaxploitation and cult fans may find something to interest them here, and there are some moments of good fun – just not enough for this reviewer.
The picture has been presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with 16:9 enhancement. The first half an hour is of VHS quality, cleaning itself up to somewhat better VHS quality. Poor.
Ditto. There are moments where the sound is so awfully mixed it's borderline-white noise in the sole English Dolby Digital 2.0 track. The original music by Jack Wheaton is typical funky blaxploitation fare.
Extra Features
Theatrical trailers for Penitentiary and Penitentiary 2, as well as a director's commentary by Fanaka.
The Verdict
Penitentiary 2 is a sub par effort by the usually dependable Fanaka, who seems to have slapped the film together quickly and roughly. The connection to the first instalment is fairly tenuous, and Fanaka hopes for some serious suspensions of belief in his audience to set up the often-ludicrous plot. However, there's some fun to be had, especially with Tony Cox and Mr T, and in the latter's fight with Ernie Hudson's Half Dead. Penitentiary 2 makes for a watchable guilty pleasure for those who like this sort of genre material, otherwise, steer clear.
Movie Score
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