Country: United States
Genre: Action/ Comedy/ Blaxploitation
Director: Jamaa Fanaka
NOT WORTH YOUR TIME
Within minutes, it’s obvious that writer/director Jamaa Fanaka has abandoned the relatively serious intent of Penitentiary. A Star Wars style crawl comes up on the screen, bringing us up to date on the saga of Too Sweet (Leon Isaac Kennedy), accompanied by ludicrous hero music. It seems that Half Dead (Ernie Hudson) is out of prison and has vowed to kill Too Sweet.
While Too Sweet is waiting for his lady love Clarisse (Eugenia Wright) to freshen up in the bathroom, Half Dead makes his move. He rapes Clarisse to death (what, is Half Dead hung like an elephant?) and he and Too Sweet have a knockout dragout, which ends with the cops showing up.
Does Too Sweet thirst for revenge? Nah. Instead he vows to win the welterweight championship of the world in order to get some respect and serve as an example for young people. Huh? Now, that just doesn’t make sense any way you slice it.
The first Penitentiary may have been crude, but it benefited from dramatic unity, and a laser sharp focus. The script by Jamaa Fanaka was as lean as star Leon Isaac Kennedy — there was hardly an extra shot or line of dialogue that could have been removed without damaging the film. Penitentiary II, on the other hand, is shaggy and digressive. The boxing bouts, which had energy and purpose in the earlier film, drag and become listless in the second.
After the financial success of Penitentiary, Jamaa Fanaka must have felt he could trade up, replacing Badja Djola, who originally played Half Dead, with Ernie Hudson. It’s not an improvement. Hudson is slicker and more professional that Djola, but he lacks the lunatic edge that made the earlier portrayal so entertaining. Again, Fanaka replaces Floyd Chatman with Malik Carter for the part of Seldom Seen, Too Sweet’s trainer in prison. I missed Chatman’s quiet wisdom in the role.
Even the technical credits, which I would have assumed would improve with more money, are less effective. There’s one spot in which Mr. T, who plays Too Sweet’s new coach, is shouting something and nothing whatsoever is heard. In another spot during the same fight, there is dialog but dead space in the background, which should be noisy. This is inexusable, even in a low budget effort.
Oh, mind you, Penitentiary II isn’t a total loss. The scenes of Half Dead lounging in his crib with Sugar (Ebony Wright) are ghetto fabulous. The discussion about fast food and beer, the way Sugar goes for a razor after Half Dead smacks her, the way Half Dead mashes a plate of potato salad in Sugar’s face and licks it off, all of these touches have an authenticity that you just can’t fake. Ernie Hudson’s body language as he lounges on the bed in his boxer shorts is perfect. And kudos to whoever did Ebony Wright’s makeup. The violet eyeshadow and blonde wig is dead on for the character. It’s clear that Jamaa Fanaka feels these people in his bones.
I also enjoyed the midget shooting craps during the boxing matches to raise enough cash to purchase some poontang, although Jamaa Fanaka made the mistake of repeating the exact same bit in the next boxing match to greatly diminished effect.
Then too, I got a kick out of Fanaka’s appropriation of cultural icons associated with white people. For example, a bunch of black folks on Venice Beach insert some African American flava into the sport of roller skating, and later on, Fanaka has Too Sweet trounce his college educated sister at chess. Right on!
But in the end, all of the amusing touches Jamaa Fanaka adds can’t make up for the lack of a compellling story and tight pacing. Technical flubs only rub salt in the wound.
Penitentiary II should have stayed in the can.