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  Penitentiary III The Punch Inside
Year: 1987
Director: Jamaa Fanaka
Stars: Leon Isaac Kennedy, Anthony Geary, Steve Antin, Ric Mancini, Marie Burrell Fanaka, Raymond Kessler, Rick Zumwalt, Magic Schwarz, Jim Bailey, Big Bull Yates, Big Yank, Bert Williams, Mark Kemble, Jack Rader, Madison Campudoni, Danny Trejo
Genre: Action, Thriller, TrashBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Too Sweet Gordone (Leon Isaac Kennedy) is a successful boxer now and tonight is competing in a match with his old friend El Cid (Madison Campudoni), but his crew are concerned that he really should have finished the fight by now: it's the sixth round and Too Sweet is too good a boxer not to have his opponent on the ropes. As that round commences, what he doesn't know is one of his team had added a chemical to his drink which abruptly changes his demeanour from one of professionalism to one of utter derangement as he continually pummels El Cid to the point of knocking him unconscious. As the match erupts into a riot, Too Sweet accurately observes something is wrong...

So El Cid dies and it's back to jail for our hero on a manslaughter charge, in this, the third and final entry in writer and director Jamaa Fanaka's Penitentiary series. The franchise was not particularly known for its good taste and restraint, but for many Part III became legendary for just how preposterous it was, as if now Fanaka had Cannon backing him he was prepared to go way over the top as a method of capturing the attention of audiences and with any luck make enough profit to fund the more serious movies he wished to create. Alas, it was not to be, as he had just the one more film left in his career, and that was even less seen than this, the obscure Street Wars.

Not that Penitentiary III set the box office alight as it was tied up in Cannon's throw everything at the audience and hope something sticks mad dash for success, which by 1987 was going seriously off the rails, though they had a couple of years left in them before it all went to pot. On video, however, this did generate a low rumble of appreciation, never more than a cult flick but ideal for those "have you seen the one where...?" conversations, mainly thanks to the wackiness of what you were expected to swallow. Some regard this as an unintentional comedy and believe Fanaka was entirely sincere with this, though others credit him with a degree of self awareness and will tell you of course this is supposed to make you laugh, the scenes with The Midnight Thud indicate that.

The Midnight whut? He was the most memorable aspect, for when Too Sweet is incarcerated he is ordered to take part in the seemingly endless boxing matches staged in this prison (at times pitting women against men), an offer he solemnly declines. Therefore he needs to be taught a lesson by the Mr Big, a whisper-voiced Anthony Geary who lounged around behind red curtains with a transvestite and orchestrates the running of the prison from his lavishly appointed cell. That punishment is one of the most ludicrous in action movie history (and there's some competition for that title in Cannon's output alone) as the Thud is sent to Too Sweet's cell and unleashed on him, a roaring killer midget (Raymond Kessler, billed as The Haitian Kid) who takes about ten minutes to beat up the protagonist before the tables are turned.

Watching Kennedy go head to head with a little person, no matter how musclebound, was not a sight easily forgotten, but Fanaka evidently had a liking for the shorter folk as he often included them in his films, and here the Thud is kept locked in a dungeon where he watches porn loops and smokes crack awaiting the call to arms once again. Yet soon after Too Sweet has trained his prodigy Roscoe (Steve Antin) in lieu of stepping into the ring himself only for the kid to be destroyed, he is being trained himself - by Thud, who in a reclamation of his lost dignity gets a name (Jessop), gets to speak, and is suddenly quite the urbane gentleman. The final bout, the one we've been waiting for as Too Sweet takes on the biggest and baddest (Rick Zumwalt), goes on for a hilariously overextended length of time as every method of besting an opponent, from socks to the jaw to kicks in the bollocks to flinging them around by their feet to suffocating them with your crotch (huh?), is implemented. Of course it's no surprise who wins - it's the viewer, who has never seen anything like it. Music by Garry Schyman.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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