Part exploitation part action Penitentiary is one of those films that is close to mainstream yet just a tad bit to much to be a full on feature you watch with your family. It's directed by Jamma Fanka and although billed as a boxing film it's actually much more.
It stars Leon Isaac Kennedy as Martel "Too Sweet" Gordone. When we first see him he is hitchhiking and gets picked up by a young woman named Linda. He goes with her to pick some people up at a diner and they are not to found that she has a black guy with her. After a quick fight Too Sweet is knocked out and awakens in prision.
He gets put in a cell with an insane killer named Half Dead. Dead thinks Too Sweet is pretty and tries to give him a good old fashioned prison rape. Luckily Too Sweet can box and after a long battle he takes him out.
He takes him out with his boxing skills which works in his favor as the warden runs an underground boxing arena. If Too Sweet enters and wins he can get out of prison early.
This film was a staple in Cinemax when I was a kid. I would watch it all the time. There are actually 3 of them, and to be honest the plot stays about the same. Which is a good thing
The film has an amazing gritty and real feel to it. Filmed in 35mm when Fanaka was still in college everything seems to flow perfectly taking an exploitation story yet turning parts of it into a gritty drama. Some argue it's a metaphor for slavery, which it may be.
The acting is nothing short of great. It's always a pleasure to watch a little film without big name actors give such stand out performances and all here do.
Gritty and dirty, the amazing company Vinegar Syndrome has aquired the rights to this film, as well as part 2 and they have done an amazing job on the transfer. The fight between Too Sweet and Half Dead features so many grunts that you would think your in a crowded auditorium watching a Wrestling match the way the crisp audio come through the speakers. The video quality is amazing, and Vynegar Syndrome has loaded the disc with special features
Region free Blu-ray/DVD combo pack
• Newly scanned and restored in 4k from the 35mm original camera negative
• Archival commentary track with Jamaa Fanaka (writer / producer / director)
• Commentary track with Sergio Mims (second assistant director)
• “Too Sweet for Penitentiary” – interview with Leon Isaac Kennedy (lead actor)
• “Filming Penitentiary” – interview with Marty Ollstein (cinematographer)
• “Producing Penitentiary” – interview with Alicia Dhanifu (producer)
• Original theatrical trailer
• English SDH Subtitles
A great film If you have never seen it, a great film that holds up if your looking for a rewatch I highly recommend it.
Overall 3.5 out of 5 Stars