Penitentiary II (1982)

Let’s go back to the story of Martel “Too Sweet” Gordone for this week’s new B-Movie Enema.

Some time ago, I covered the first story in Too Sweet’s trilogy. This week, we pick up where the last left off with Penitentiary II. As seen at the end of the first film, Too Sweet won the prison boxing tournament and was released. However, there’s a bit of a caveat with that freedom as we’ll see in this week’s sequel.

As with the first, Penitentiary II is written and directed by activist and leading member of the L.A. Rebellion, Jamaa Fanaka. Fanaka would ultimately make three films in the saga of Too Sweet Gordone. However, this film has a couple other notable actors appearing in it.

The first film’s primary antagonist, Half Dead Johnson, was played by Bjada Djola. However, for the sequel, Half Dead is played by Ernie Hudson. Yeah, one of the Ghostbusters and one of the main characters in The Crow! Hudson got his start in movies in the mid-70s. By the time he appeared in Penitentiary II, he had been in a handful of notable flicks. He was in The Human Tornado with Rudy Ray Moore. He had a bit part in the Ryan O’Neal and Barbara Streisand boxing rom-com The Main Event. In 1980, he was in the Chuck Norris action flick The Octagon, and The Jazz Singer. Obviously, his biggest roles were yet to come.

Another notable and recognizable actor in this is Glynn Turner. Turner had been acting since the early 70s. His biggest splash was in Cooley High in which he played one of the leads, “Preach”. He was also in JD’s Revenge which is sitting on my shelf just waiting for me to decide if I’m ever going to cover it here or on Monster Mondays on Film Seizure. What most of us are going to remember Turner for is the role of the school science teacher, Mr. Hanson, in Gremlins. In fact, he was the first casualty of the little green monsters in the movie.

And, yes, both Gremlins and Ghostbusters were released on June 8, 1984.

Those aren’t the only iconic things from the 80s to appear in Penitentiary II! I pity the fool who doesn’t appreciate the fact that fuckin’ Mr. T is in this too! This is riiiight at the beginning of Mr. T’s skyrocketing career. This is the same year he appeared in Rocky III as well. In fact, in the span of about 7 weeks, both Penitentiary II and Rocky III were on screens. Mr. T was definitely getting to people’s eyeballs. In about 8 months, he would be seen on TV in his most recognizable role as B.A. Baracus when The A-Team premiered after my beloved Washington Redskins defeated the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII.

So, yeah, fuck all this yakkity yak and let’s dig our way into Penitentiary II!

Right out of the gate, we see Too Sweet having a sweet family reunion after being released from jail with his sister Ellen (Peggy Blow), her husband Charles (Turner), and their son Chucky, Jr. Too Sweet is again played by Leon Isaac Kennedy who wasn’t a stranger to some pretty good flicks in in the late 70s and early 80s. Just prior to the first Penitentiary, he played the villainous McGee in the Filipino revenge story Death Force. He appeared in the Chuck Norris flick Lone Wolf McQuade, and, aside from being Too Sweet in the Penitentiary trilogy, he also made a remake of the 40s boxing drama Body and Soul.

Now, why the fuck do you need me to tell you the proceedings of this movie when the movie gives us a brief opening seeing him reunite with his sister and brother-in-law, then provides us with a sweet ass funk theme with credits, and gives us a Star Wars style text crawl of our story to date? And, holy shit, it is a LOT of exposition and text scrolling across the screen, my peoples.

I do wonder about the use of this text crawl. Obviously, yes, Star Wars made that very popular again after not really being used in this way since the old serials of the 30s and 40s. Fanaka was incredibly fascinated with mainstream Hollywood, so maybe this was his tribute to a popular thing that had returned to films of the era. However, it also feels like a parody. Also, wowzers it is A LOT of exposition and just paragraph after paragraph. As it started to reveal just how long it was, I chuckled. I had to wonder if I was watching something that Abrams and the Zucker brothers made or if Mel Brooks was teasing his upcoming Spaceballs movie. I just didn’t expect this in what I expected to be a fairly serious boxing movie.

Honestly, if you ever watch this movie, I think there may be a purposeful satire playing out in a movie that seemingly both takes itself very seriously and a movie that has a lot of fun with itself too.

Alright, sure enough, Too Sweet is delivering legal papers on roller skates. That may seem like a bizarre thing, but, frankly, I’d be shocked if that WASN’T a thing in the 70s and early 80s. You have bike messengers so why not in places like California, or even in New York City in the warm months, have roller skating messengers? But you know what? It’s a little bizarre coming into a boxing gym with roller skates on because tough guys like Mr. motherfuckin’ T is gonna make fun of you and call you “Sweetie”.

When T’s sparring partner gets made a fool of by Too Sweet, he tries to step up to Too Sweet, but Too Sweet slaps him like a bitch. The manager of the gym turns out to also be the warden’s brother-in-law that Too Sweet’s been dodging. This pisses off the boxing manager because it is his opinion that Too Sweet is expected to box as part of his parole. However, Too Sweet read the parole conditions literally – he only has to be in the employ of the manager for one year. It said nothing about boxing. So here we are.

And also, here’s Ernie Hudson looking really tough and scary.

Yes, Half Dead has given himself a pardon by escaping from prison. He’s having a beer, riding with his homies, and looking to score with a lady, or meet up with some of his pals, whichever happens to happen first. His pals are curious why he wants to go right back to the old neighborhood. They fear he will be immediately caught again, but Half Dead is like, “Dudes, I AM cool.” He figures if he hides, he’ll get caught, besides, he needs to find him some Too Sweet to settle a score.

Elsewhere, Too Sweet and his sister are skating at the beach. She wants to try to reach him on an emotional level. She wants to try to talk about what happened. She even calls him emotionally constipated – which I will have to some day use on someone (probably my co-host at Film Seizure, Jason Oliver). He tells her that he doesn’t want to talk about anything with her that isn’t beautiful. He has dealt with their parents being killed by a drunk driver, being in the Vietnam War, going to jail for a murder he had no idea even happened, being forced to beat the shit out of people in a tournament that found people he cared about killed. He’s had it.

So he is gonna roller skate dance. He doesn’t realize that Half Dead is watching him. He also doesn’t realize that his old girlfriend Clarisse (Eugenia Wright) is also there and ready to reconnect.

Naturally, Too Sweet is like, “You’re better off without me.” He’s like Peter Parker. He fears that everyone who gets close to him gets hurt. But, because Clarisse is extremely hot, he makes out with her anyway, and decides maybe he can tap that.

Also, can we just take a moment to enjoy Glynn Turner roller skating with an umbrella?

That night, Half Dead and his homies are cruising for Too Sweet. He’s kind of getting a little scary with his obsession to deal with Too Sweet. His homies are like, “Alright, let’s do this.” This is not what Half Dead’s plans are. He wants Too Sweet all to himself.

Too Sweet is hanging out with Clarisse. Clarisse is a little nervous about doing the sexy stuff in his sister’s house, but Too Sweet, giving a line almost every teenage boy has said to a smoking hot girlfriend, says that they are alone for the weekend, so what’s the big deal? Clarisse also admits that she’s still a virgin. She waited for him to get out of jail. I hope she doesn’t know about the conjugal visit he had in the hoosegow, but I digress. She goes to get ready in the bathroom while Too Sweet pulls out the sofa bed.

It should be mentioned that not only is Half Dead creeping around outside with his pet knife, but when she agreed to go get ready for the sex, cheers could be heard from the TV in Too Sweet’s room. I feel like that Fanaka doing another funny thing there like the text crawl.

But uh oh! She’s getting ready in the bathroom like all people do in movie and TV shows by smiling at themselves in the mirror and pretending how they are going to lovingly say their lover’s name. She doesn’t know that hiding in the shower is a very sweet any moist, shirtless Ernie Hudson!

He says he isn’t going to kill her if she stays quiet, but he’s flashing that knife in her fucking face like a crazy person, so guess what, she’s gonna cry and whimper and stuff. He turns on the shower to hide the sounds of rape in the bathroom. Outside in the bedroom, Too Sweet starts getting wise that something isn’t right.

He goes to the door to see what’s up and and Half Dead comes busting out. He bashes a vase on Half Dead’s head and then sees that, yup, Clarisse is dead. Like, I think it was also implied that Half Dead killed her while he was raping her? So it’s like some necro shit going on there. This enrages Too Sweet and he tries to beat the hell out of Half Dead but that only gets his head stuffed in a toilet. I am only guessing, based on how Ernie Hudson is playing Half Dead like a fucking animal that he took a dump in the toilet earlier, didn’t flush, and is now shoving Too Sweet’s head into it.

I do appreciate that there is some continuity here between these first two movies with sweaty black men fighting like mad while wearing only little shorts. This is definitely a thing in this series.

While Too Sweet and Half Dead fight it out inside, the cops arrive outside. The cops come in, and, naturally, hold a gun to Too Sweet. When Ellen picks Too Sweet up from the cops, he tells her he’s gonna fight. He’s going to make good on the boxing manager’s expectations and he’s gonna beat the fuck out of some poor sap. He’s gonna become champ so he can use his platform to make a difference to kids – which I think is pretty noble.

People always complain that actors shouldn’t be telling people how to better life for others because “They don’t do anything with all their money to put it where their mouths are” (which is untrue) or that sports figures should just do the sports things. What they don’t realize is that these people have incredible opportunities to reach people and ingratiate themselves with the wider public. This makes it easier for them to say things that are important and reach hearts and minds. More recently, this has been very important in the sports world because a lot of those people grow up in really shitty situations. Actors, singers, and other artists are usually pretty quick to come into contact with people of different creeds, races, religions, sexuality, etc. They can speak to ideas of better acceptance and so forth. This movie, 40 years ago, is talking about using a platform through the hard work of rising above bad situations to help people steer clear of bad situations. That’s important. Considering this is a movie made by a black filmmaker, using a mostly black cast and crew, and using a lot of mainstream ideas, this is not a new phenomenon.

Too Sweet goes to the manager, Cunningham, and gets assigned someone that can train him the best – Mr. T. While Too Sweet begins to rise up and learn a thing or two from T, he gets visited by Seldom Seen, his old trainer in the pen. He joins the team to get Too Sweet ready for his first match. Thus begins the training montage! The montage begins on a funny note. Another thing I chuckled at – Mr. T and Leon Isaac Kennedy running with two old, overweight dudes on motorbikes behind them.

We have running, jump ropes, speed bags, heavy bag action. We have a good old fashioned, legit, montage. Meanwhile, just as I was wondering what happened with Half Dead, we see his homies at the hospital. Like a couple dummies, they put nylons over their heads and attack the cop guarding Half Dead. They go in so they can bust him out. While they deal with the cop, they don’t see the nurses calling security. Meanwhile, there’s a whole moment, a WHOLE moment, in this movie in which the cop guarding the room has to admit to shitting himself over the attack. I am not shitting you. (Heh)

Now, I guess the nurses’ call to security has gone unanswered because the homies make off with Half Dead with no further resistance.

Elsewhere, Too Sweet goes to solicit some ladies to dance with Seldom at the club. I really like this moment because he really just wants Seldom to have some fun with a lady. The ladies ask about him. One also says she will dance with Seldom if Too Sweet dances with her friend. Now, it would be very easy to fuck this up and have Too Sweet take a lady home. However, he’s still mourning over Clarisse. So he only says that he’s not much of a dancer, but would like to simply sit with them and talk. This makes for a nice, sweet little moment for Too Sweet and Seldom to have some fun and not fuck up the emotional weight of, like, five scenes ago.

I should say that I absolutely love these two Penitentiary movies. They are kind of silly. They aren’t exactly stitched together all that well in editing, but goddamn they are fun to watch. The characters are interesting and charming. You can assume these movies, despite some scenes having weight and some messaging behind them, were a blast to make.

The next morning, we see where Half Dead hangs out, with a sort of girlfriend/sort of prostitute. She tries to talk him into seeing his folks, but he’s like, “They’re a thousand miles away.” She then talks to him about scoring some cash. She questions the whole thing about him going after Too Sweet. This angers Half Dead and he smacks her around a little bit. But after he smashes potato salad on her face, they fuck.

Now, don’t peg me as a behavioral psychologist, but I think these people are a little messed up.

Anyway, there’s good news and bad news for Too Sweet. The good news is Cunningham got a really good fight for him. The bad news is the fight is THAT night. The original challenger to the #1 contender for the title got messed up and had to back out. The promoters can’t pull out on the fight because it will be broadcast nationally. So in comes Too Sweet, who really wants to win on national TV.

Too Sweet returns to the very penitentiary he was at to fight Jesse “The Bull” Amos. The fight is in an absolute circus. There’s a guy playing the sax while another plays the bongos. There’s a little person winning money throwing dice so he can go get some poontang. Mr. T is there dressed as a genie. It’s utterly wild. And it’s being broadcast across the country on TV. That does raise a question – were prison fights ever broadcast on television? Is this a commentary on people just wanting to watch black men beat the shit out of each other like gladiators? Am I reading too much into this? Did I imagine that little person propositioning a woman in a striped catsuit for sex?

I know one thing I wasn’t bullshitting you about – Mr. T dressed as a genie.

I should also mention that Jesse “The Bull” Amos was in the previous film too. He’s even played by the same guy, Donovan Womack. At first, it seems as though Too Sweet is too fast and slippery, but eventually, Amos gets the upper hand and starts knocking Too Sweet down many many times. Too Sweet doesn’t give up and keeps getting back up despite not really seemingly knowing where he is. Despite the fight doctor saying the fight should be stopped, he goes back out for another round, but despite the crowd chanting his name, he collapses and the fight is called.

There was something good that came from this – Too Sweet is now a household name. Letters are pouring in from all over the place. It appears that he has captured the hearts of America. However, that’s not really their goal. They want to capture the pocketbooks of America. Charles has a plan… He’s going to carefully mold Too Sweet’s image and decisions into a scenario in which he’s going to be “Too Rich”. In a lot of ways, this feels like this movie kind of beats Rocky III to the punch, as it were. In that movie, Rocky rocketed to fame and stardom after finally getting the better of Apollo Creed in the rematch.

It’s maybe even fair to say that this era in boxing, with the help of the Rocky movies, made boxers into more than just champs as was seen with Ali and Frazier and Foreman in the previous decade. It was as if the boxers themselves were marketable commodities. This is exactly what this movie is doing. It’s making Too Sweet the marketable commodity while he’s wanting that standing to be able to speak out about the horseshit he’s had to deal with to hopefully inspire change.

Not only that, but in 3 months’ time, Too Sweet has a rematch with Amos. He wants to go back to the penitentiary to fight Amos on his turf. This time, he plans to win. So, everything is totally coming up Milhouse for Too Sweet.

Half Dead still wants to kill Too Sweet. His homies don’t want to mess around with this anymore because there’s no real money to be made from this fool any longer. However, Half Dead wants Too Sweet full dead, and Half Dead doesn’t do anything halfway. That… That wasn’t in the movie. That was me putting all that together.

Anyway…

Too Sweet and Seldom still hang out with the two ladies from the club. Too Sweet tells his lady friend that he still plans to be champ and say what he wanted to say with his platform, etc. Seldom gets into a little bit of a tiff with his lady when he asks her to marry him. She is NOT into that. She’s fine hanging out with them, but not this marrying bullshit. Then the greatest cameo that could possibly show up arrives in the form of motherfuckin’ Rudy Ray Moore!

There’s still a lot to do in these last 30 minutes. We gotta deal with Half Dead. We gotta deal with the final bout to make Too Sweet the champ. So let’s start with Half Dead. He tells his homies that there’s one way to make money off of Too Sweet. He’s got $10,000 that he got from somewhere. Where? Shut up, that’s where. He’s going to bet it all on Amos. Why they necessarily think this is the best idea, I don’t have a clue, but they are very excited about it.

So that’s it. They are gonna bet 10 Gs that Amos is gonna fuck up Too Sweet. One might say that’s only going to make a clown out of Half Dead…

Too late.

But seriously, here’s the thing. Half Dead has sneaked into the penitentiary and kicks Too Sweet in the kidney while he’s praying. He says Too Sweet better lose. That will make him rich with that 10K, but if Too Sweet wins, there’s insurance in the form of his homies at his sister’s place ready to attack. He kicks Too Sweet a few more times and stomps on his left hand.

His people know something is up, but Too Sweet is playing it off. As the pre-fight festivities playout, Half Dead is in the crowd while his two homies, Do Dirty and Simp, are hanging out with Ellen, Charles, and Chucky, Jr.

And so, here we go… Too Sweet vs. The Bull II. Too Sweet keeps dancing and trying to dodge, but he isn’t going on the attack. Obviously, his corner is wanting him to attack, but he’s not using his left, and he’s covering his gut. He hasn’t thrown a single punch. Rounds pass by and Too Sweet is basically doing nothing. In the third, Amos knocks Too Sweet down twice. Now, a keen viewer might ask, “Why aren’t those in his corner asking about why he is so obviously favoring his body and not using his left hand at all?” Mr. T does ask about him not using his left, but Too Sweet says nothing whatsoever.

Keen viewers would likely ask, “Why not try to figure out some way to tell his people what’s going on and see what they can do to solve this while Too Sweet fights honestly? You know, before he gets really hurt…”

Oops. Too late.

Back at Charles and Ellen’s place, they overpower Simp and Do Dirty. They hurry to the penitentiary. They arrive just in time to see Too Sweet get knocked to the mat. Ellen talks to him and tells him they are here and he realizes that there’s no more concern about them. Half Dead sneaks off to the locker room and runs into Mr. T.

It’s about the moment when Half Dead throws a punch at Mr. T and T begins tossing him around the locker room, that I begin to wonder if Ernie Hudson was destroyed by Mr. T and everything we saw him in after was either CGI trickery or a clone. Meanwhile, in the fight, Too Sweet beats the shit out of Amos and knocks him out of the ring. When he comes back, Too Sweet lays into him even more while the announcer has a religious moment of believing in “miracles, America, apple pie, and motherhood!”

In the locker room, T is throwing Half Dead around as if he’s a ragdoll. This is kind of amazing cutting back and forth from Too Sweet destroying Amos with the orgasmic shouts of “I believe!” from the announcer and Ernie Hudson getting the shit kicked out of him by Mr. T. This is one HELL OF A WAY to end your movie.

I’m legit serious when I say I don’t know if Ernie Hudson survived that. Also, did Mr. T, famous Mr. T, kill Half Dead? Did he just choke him out or use a sleeper hold, or is he fucking dead in that locker room? These are serious questions that go unanswered because the movie ends with Too Sweet celebrating his title bout victory and Mr. T nonchalantly returning to the ring for the celebration.

Also, good for that little dude finally buying him some good poontang. That little dude is Tony Cox who has been in a bunch of movies like Bad Santa and so forth. He’s got nearly 100 credits. You know who he is.

This movie is bonkers but in the good ways. There’s a third one out there that is actually much more of a comedy, and we’ll get there some day. Speaking of, the first Penitentiary definitely had some lighter moments. This second leaned way more into that in just about every possible sense – particularly in the fight scenes at the pen. I feel like the first movie did have something more to say that was weightier, but this one is just plain fun. Like I said, there are curious things in it about the editing and some things that seem to go way overboard, but it’s an incredibly watchable movie.

Oh, and Half Dead does not return for the third movie. I’m assuming now that means Mr. T did indeed kill him in the locker room. Someone should really check into whether or not present day Ernie Hudson is indeed a CGI creation or a clone because I don’t know if Mr. T literally killed him or not.

Alrighty… That wraps up this week’s B-Movie Enema. Next week, I’m going on a wild goose hunt in a post-apocalyptic world. I’ll be looking at Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Turkey Shoot! In the meantime, head over to YouTube and subscribe to the B-Movie Enema YouTube channel. There, you can find the first season of B-Movie Enema: The Series. You’ll also find several clips that I pull when I need some extra help fully describing something crazy. Also, check out the site’s Facebook page as well as Twitter too! Not only that, but do me a favor and check out Film Seizure. That’s a podcast I cohost with a couple old friends. We talk about movies (like, good ones, not these types of movies), and we usually pick things we have some sort of connection to. It’s a good time.

See you next week, Enemaniacs! I pity the fool who don’t come back next week.

Mr. T | Best of the 80s

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s