Friday, July 16, 2021


 by Anthony King

Let me be frank right at the top: I hate boxing and anything that revolves around it.

While not a sports guy, if I do watch sports I tend to go for the non-violent types – baseball, golf, chess. The funny thing is that I said the same exact thing in a group text and not 15 minutes later do I put on a movie about boxing. Did you know the Penitentiary movies were about boxing? Because I didn't. Having not seen the first one, I assumed going into Penitentiary II that an exploitation movie such as it is wouldn't require the viewer to be privy to the story leading up to the sequel. And I was right. Having since seen number two, I have gone back and watched the first one. And while I like each of them enough, I'm not compelled to watch the third one because, you guessed it, boxing.
Written and directed by Jamaa Fanaka (he did all three as well the killer penis movie, Welcome Home Brother Charles), PII picks up where the first left off. Martel “Too Sweet” Gordone (Leon Isaac Kennedy) is released from the titular penitentiary after winning the prison boxing tournament. A Star Wars-esque crawl at the beginning fills the virginal viewer in on the previous film set to an opening killer song by composer Jack Wheaton. Too Sweet just wants his old life back, so he seeks out his former girlfriend and finds her participating in an excellent roller disco scene on the Venice Beach boardwalk. A stipulation of Too Sweet's parole, though, is that he has to continue his boxing career working with a promoter and trainer played by Mr. T. Meanwhile, Too Sweet's prison yard nemesis, Half-Dead (Ernie Hudson), has escaped, and alongside his two henchmen buffoons hunt down Too Sweet. I'll stop with the plot here and just say revenge becomes a driving factor, and guess what? Too Sweet gets back into the ring. In prison.

I would absolutely love this movie if it were strictly about revenge, but alas it's a boxing movie and boxing takes up most of the time here. Too Sweet just wants to make the world a better place and delivers a cheese-filled monologue that includes the line, “I'm gonna make a difference in this dirty, rotten world... I'm gonna be the champion of the world.” You get your standard Rocky training sequence where Too Sweet is running alongside Mr. T and the trainer, Seldom, riding a motorcycle on the beach. You get the inevitable scene where Too Sweet just wants to give up but Rudy Ray Moore and Irene Stokes inexplicably show up as a random husband and wife and inspire him to keep fighting. And you get the big final boxing match at the end. As in the first, each of these matches is broadcast on live television by professional commentators where we're treated to an impassioned cry of, “I believe in smarties. I believe in motherhood. I believe in apple pie. I believe in too sweet. I believe! I believe!” Also carried over from the first is a little person dogging ladies in the bathroom and under the ring, ringside musical entertainment provided by a saxophonist and conga player, the horrifically offensive gay section of prisoners, and a pre-show dance routine from a proto Fly Girls dance troupe.
My favorite part of the movie is by far anything that includes Half-Dead. We're all used to seeing Ernie Hudson as the lovable Winston from Ghostbusters. Here we get a completely different character, showcasing Hudson's range. With his razor-shaved head, wide eyes, and snarling lips always showing his teeth, Half-Dead is pure evil. Hudson is downright scary in this role. For better or worse, though, he's paired up with the half-wit team of Do Dirty and Simp. They're constantly fucking up Half-Dead's plans and sometimes even shitting their pants (“My bowels. I done doo doo.”). And then we're witness to a truly original and disgusting scene where Half-Dead is in bed with a woman watching the boxing match. After smacking her around she dumps potato salad all over his face – not as an act of retaliation but as a sexual act – and proceeds to EAT IT OFF HIS FACE IN A SEXY MANNER. Strawberries, cherries, whipped cream, chocolate – these could be considered sexy foods (please don't put food on your body). Potato salad? Add that to the list of “least sexiest foods” alongside Gefilte fish, stewed cabbage, and cottage cheese.
In a movie that includes obvious sponsorship from Schlitz – what with copious amounts of signage, cans, and clothing promoting its logo – and Mr. T's magic genie lantern that emits a room-clearing amount of hot pink smoke, there's plenty to love. Especially if you love a good boxing movie. For me, though, the humor is a little too broad, the acting is a little too subpar, and the time allotted to boxing is a little too generous. We'll always have roller disco on Venice Beach.

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