After spending time in jail for a murder he didn't commit, Martel "Too Sweet" Gordone (Leon Isaac Kennedy) has been released on parole to stay with his married sister's family on the condition that he pursues the career in boxing that seemed so promising when he was inside. But he hates being in the ring and is determined to stay out of it, instead taking a position as the general dogsbody at the gym where the other boxers work out, ignoring their catcalls and occasional attempts to goad him into combat. In fact, things are looking up for him as he settles back into the way of civilian life, and to make them even better his old girlfriend Clarisse (Eugenia Wright) wants to get back together with him...
But with Too Sweet one of the most unlucky characters in not only prison movie history but movie history overall, you can bet something unfortunate is looming over his fate, and so it is when his old nemesis from the first movie, Half Dead (a fairly incredible Ernie Hudson soon to be of Ghostbusters fame) breaks out of jail and determines to track him down to exact revenge. If you'd seen the initial installment you would be unsurprised to watch this playing out as luridly as writer and director Jamaa Fanaka could muster, if anything his good taste was even more absent as Half Dead breaks into Too Sweet's home just as he was about to make love to Clarisse for the first time, then as he awaits her in the bedroom disaster strikes.
That involves Half Dead raping the woman and murdering her in the bathroom, demonstrating no matter these movies' reputation for high camp, they were able to go to some particularly nasty places. Anyway, this incident snaps something in our hero - we don't see him grooving on rollerskates ever again, that's for sure - and he proceeds to throw himself into the boxing career he never wanted, rising up the rankings whereupon he winds up back in the penitentiary of the title. But not because he has been convicted once again, nope he's there to box, and battle another fighter who has been through a similar incarceration to seek the sport as the best way out of his predicament. With a mere two boxing match setpieces, you might think this sounded uneventful.
But Fanaka appeared to have taken that old boxing match cliché of the hero beaten down for a few rounds only to emerge the victor after tapping into an unexpected reserve of strength to fresh extremes, so that match in the middle of the film took a leaf out of Sylvester Stallone's contemporaneous Rocky III and saw Too Sweet take an absolute hammering that would have killed a lesser man, not that the choreography was as impressive, mostly the two actors taking roundhouse swings at one another. But that Rocky allusion was interesting, because they shared a star: step forward Mr. T here apparently playing himself and part of Too Sweet's entourage, much given to standing around carrying an Aladdin's lamp which plumed purple smoke, like you do.
As if the presence of Mr. T was not reason enough to watch, then Fanaka included a whole array of scenes and asides which gradually accumulated a feeling of utter confusion as to what the hell was supposed to be going on, from a Rudy Ray Moore cameo to a training montage which consisted of a single long shot of Too Sweet and Mr. T slowly jogging around a park while a light funk track blared on the soundtrack. There was plenty of encouragement for the protagonist in the field of self-improvement, being the main drive for the plot and indeed many of its kind, the Penitentiary franchise a hangover from the blaxploitation days of the early-to-mid seventies. If nothing else, they were at least exploitation movies from an actual African American filmmaker rather than some white movie executive's idea of what that ought to be, and in that way sustain an appeal all their own no matter how shoddy the results were. What else can you cay about a film with a running joke about midget Tony Cox trying to buy sex at the match while Mr. T beats up Ernie Hudson? Music by Jack Wheaton.