Back to the Big House!
Too Sweet (Leon Isaac Kennedy) is out on parole and living with his sister and her husband. Wanting nothing to do with boxing anymore, he takes a job as a messenger. His parole is conditional on him working for the brother of the Warden from his former jail and this man wants him to train and box at his facility. Too Sweet doesn’t want to but ultimately has to, so he gives in. Meanwhile, his old prison cellmate, Half Dead (Ernie Hudson) has escaped and is looking for Too Sweet, swearing revenge. Things get complicated and convoluted, and soon Too Sweet finds that he has to return to the penitentiary to fight the champion there and must do it with an injured hand in order to save his sister and her husband when Half Dead’s henchmen holds them hostage. Can Too Sweet win the fight and save his family?
This one is quite a bit different than the original. Gone are the sleazy prison trappings. Too Sweet is out and free and most of this movie, except for the boxing at the end, takes place outside of the Big House. He’s trying to adjust to a normal life again, finding his old girlfriend and falling back in love. But his past is stalking him and the shadow of Half Dead is never far away. There is a really sickening part where Half Dead assaults Too Sweet’s girlfriend and even though it takes place in a locked suburban bathroom, it sure feels like we’re back in jail. Mr. T is in this and that’s pretty awesome, owning the scenes he’s in. I’m pretty sure this one was made before Rocky III, but in any case, he’s a lot different here than he is as Clubber Lang. He’s charming and tough all at once. Like the original film, this one has a few side moments that are bizarre and funny and some that are disturbing as hell. The little person gambling to get money for a hooker is pretty damned hilarious, just as the attack of Half Dead’s henchmen on a hospital is damned harrowing. All in all, this is a worthy sequel, it’s biggest problem being it’s too long. This one needed about ten to fifteen minutes trimmed out. It lacks the desperate feel of the first movie, but it trades that for some glossy fighting and a more wholesome atmosphere. Although, don’t kid yourselves. Just because it isn’t as grungy as the first doesn’t mean it doesn’t get down and dirty in its own way.
Penitentiary II is a good sequel, one filled with brighter scenes, more humor, and more sugar than spice. It’s still a tough little film, and it still has creator/writer/director Jamaa Fanaka’s personality stamped all over it. So while this one is glossier, it still punches pretty hard.