Penitentiary ★★½

Think Oz but with a lot more boxing and a lot less gay sex. When a young black man nicknamed "Too Sweet" gets framed for a murder he didn't commit, he finds himself locked up in a penitentiary where the only recourse for survival is to fight back and fight back hard. Later, when a boxing tournament is held inside the prison walls with a hefty reward promised to the last man standing, Too Sweet realizes that he can put his fighting skills to other use besides simple self-defense. Written, produced and directed by Jamaa Fanaka, Penitentiary is a competently made prison drama but don't expect too much more from it than that. Beyond all the fight scenes that are only moderately compelling there isn't a whole lot more going on in the film. The film's characters are all one-note and none are particularly memorable. The film doesn't do a particularly good job of instilling a true sense of danger or hopelessness for its main protagonist either. In between fights, Too Sweet just sort of exists within the prison walls. The film is perhaps only notable for its surprisingly oddball sense of humour which often sneaks up on you when you least expect it. I honestly don't know what to make of it. It's also notable for a particularly brutal bare knuckle fight scene between two rivals/ cellmates that seems to go on forever. It almost gives the fight scene between Roddy Piper and Keith David in They Live a solid run for its money in terms of its sheer exhaustive length.