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Xenon Entertainment presents
"You want gloves? I'll give you gloves. I'll give you shoes, I'll give you socks, I'll give you bagels, I'll give you lox. I'll even give you jockstraps. More than that, I'll give you the very best to teach you—Mister T!"
DVD ReviewPenitentiary 2, sequel to the 1979 Penitentiary, continues the saga of "Too Sweet" (Leon Isaac Kennedy), released at the end of the first film to embark on a boxing career. Reluctant to devote himself to the violent sport, he is in danger of violating his parole conditions when his girlfriend Clarisse (Eugenia Wright) is murdered by his escaped mortal enemy, "Half Dead" Johnson (Ernie Hudson.) "Half Dead" on the loose represents a continuing threat to himself, his sister and her family, which for some reason motivates "Too Sweet" to resume his fighting career as a "visitor" on the prison circuit, leaving it to his brother-in-law Charles (Glynn Turman) to deal with "Half Dead."
Released in 1982, Penitentiary 2 is much more entertaining than the original. Writer/director Jamaa Fanaka wisely abandons the overwrought earnestness of his first film, allowing this sequel to be looser, funnier and weirder, a shameless pugilistic sideshow rather than a "serious" commentary on race and violence in America. Fanaka throws in roller disco, a Psycho reference, the A-Team's Mr. T, a toilet bowl drowning attempt, Rocky-esque training montages, a lecherous little person, a rainbow fright wig, a mime, and a couple of out-and-out gags. Penitentiary 2 is also a better film from a technical and directorial standpoint—the camera moves more dramatically, the sound editing is better (aside from several obviously dubbed lines), and the production values are visibly higher with sharper compositions and lighting. There are still a few disconnected reaction shots, but Fanaka clearly learned a lot making Penitentiary and applies those lessons to good effect here.
The acting is generally much improved, which creates an unusual problem for this sequel. Most of the returning supporting characters have been recast to feature performers who can actually interact credibly, but Leon Isaac Kennedy's lead performance as "Too Sweet" remains flat and uncharismatic. His range of emotions is limited—he's either stoic, smiling or in excruciating pain—and he never establishes any genuine connections with his co-stars; even his girlfriend's death fails to register, as he's out scopin' the babes a few nights later. His performance, which was one of the better ones in the first film, now pales against an almost completely upgraded supporting cast. Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters) chews the scenery gleefully as "Half Dead" Johnson, Mr. T does a passable job as an incense-burning version of himself, and Oliver Reed-ish Stan Kamber has a lot of fun as boxing promoter Sam Cunningham. "Blaxploitation" star Rudy Ray Moore turns up in a funny cameo as an irate apartment dweller, with lines that borrow from his trademark Dolemite proto-rap riffs. There aren't any Oscar-winning performances here, but the "community theatre rehearsal" quality of the first film has been eliminated.
Jack Wheaton's bombastic score and a few scene-stealing extras contribute to the circus atmosphere, and Fanaka clues the audience in to his intentions right away with an opening "The Story So Far" Flash Gordon/Star Wars-style crawl that sums up the first movie as it fades off into the distance. The movie rushes forward with a refreshing disregard for continuity and conventional plot development, ending with a cheerful freeze-frame of the victorious "Too Sweet" and his supporters. Is Penitentiary 2 a great film? No—the plot doesn't make much sense, and there's no one you'll really care about, least of all the protagonist. But it's a lot more fun than Penitentiary if you take it on its own kick-back-and-let-it-all-hang-out terms.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C
Image Transfer Review: Xenon presents Penitentiary 2 in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with a non-anamorphic transfer. The packaging claims a "remastered" transfer -the source print has some flecking and two scenes have a vertical line running throughout (Movieola damage?), but it's otherwise in decent condition. Color is solid and there are few distracting digital artifacts, but the image is on the soft side and black levels are very light. It's an acceptable transfer, nothing more.
Image Transfer Grade: C
Audio Transfer Review: Penitentiary 2 is presented with its original monophonic soundtrack, in Dolby Digital 2.0 decoded to play through the center speaker. The audio is much cleaner than on Xenon's Penitentiary DVD, but still carries significant hiss. Some dialogue is muddied and/or very hard to hear against background effects, but these flaws are attributable to the source. The digital transfer seems accurate and even manages a bit of subwoofer-level bass, but this is only an average soundtrack with an unavoidably low-budget feel.
Audio Transfer Grade: C-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Penitentiary
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Jamaa Fanaka
Extras Review: Penitentiary 2 contains some substantial extras, though the "original production stills and outtakes" promised on the packaging are nowhere to be found. Nicely-designed full-motion menus provide 12 chapter stops, and special features include:
Original Theatrical Trailer -
The trailer is presented in a 1.85:1 ratio with monophonic audio. The source print has significant flecking and grain, but it's a fairly dynamic trailer, reasonably well transferred.
Jamaa Fanaka Commentary -
Director Fanaka delivers a stream-of-consciousness commentary, jumping from subject to subject as images in the film trigger memories of the production and personnel involved, though there are quite a few long quiet stretches where he has nothing to say. He provides some insight into the film's genesis and financing after the first film became very profitable, and generously credits the actors and technicians involved in the production. The pacing is slow with a fair amount of repetition, but it's an informative commentary overall.
Penitentiary Trailer -
The original film's lengthy 4-minute trailer is presented in its original 1.85:1 ratio—the print is "flecky," worn in spots and quite soft.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsPenitentiary 2 is a loose, dynamic, silly action movie providing honest-to-goodness brainless entertainment. Xenon's DVD features a competent if average transfer and a few worthwhile supplements. A good Saturday night pizza-party rental, and a fine deal for fans of the film.
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