The Best of Ernie Hudson as Half Dead in Jamaa Fanaka’s Penitentiary II.
Simply the most outrageous scenes of a pre-Ghostbusters Ernie Hudson as the vile Half Dead, archenemy of the noble Too Sweet (Leon Isaac Kennedy), a boxer on patrol from prison for crime he did not commit. Penitentiary II is an early 1980s blaxploitation film written and directed by Jamaa Fanaka and it is worth a look not just for the well choreographed fight scenes between Kennedy and Hudson, but for the strange blend of everything but the kitchen sink. The film even includes a Star Wars like text crawl into the front door that is closed on the camera/viewer’s face depicting in too many paragraphs what has happened between films. It also marks the big screen debut of Mr. T. before his Star making appearance in Rocky III. Leon Isaac Kennedy laments about the film’s release on Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray Disc release that he tried to convince the film’s distributor not to release Penitentiary II until after Rocky III to capitalize on Mr. T. I agree with Mr. Kennedy and believe the film would have made more money at the box office had they waited, but instead they released it earlier.
The film has lots of quotable lines from all the characters. One my friend from childhood used to state dialogue said by Ernie Hudson’s character of Half Dead in the beginning of the film where he reasons, “You hired. Somebody’s gonna fire you.” It is probably one of the most self defeatist lines in cinema history as a reason as to why Half Dead chose a life of crime, but it says a lot about his character too.
At times Hudson’s acting is so over the top that it is unintentionally funny, but Penitentiary II is filled with moments where it shifts from moments of heroics because Leon Isaac Kennedy is ever the noble hero in the film and puts his heart and soul into the role. At times he is so intense that during a fight in a bathroom scene with Half Dead, Ernie Hudson looks like he is trying not to laugh. Not because Kennedy is not believable, Kennedy is the hero of the film, but the situations at times seem so over the top that what normally would be a horrific moment, loses a bit of it’s sting to become almost circus like, but that is part of the charm of the film.
Supporting characters in the film have names like Simp, Do Dirty, and Seldom Seems. Cameos include Tony Cox and Rudy Ray Moore. A third film followed in 1987. The film’s soundtrack plays over the video, but the action speaks for itself. I was an undergrad in film school when my friend rented it out on VHS and told me about it. I think for what it is, Penitentiary II is an underrated Blaxploitation classic and a must for any fan of the genre’s library. There is nothing politically correct about this film. If you are easily offended then don’t see it, but otherwise, check it out.
My friend died of a heart attack in 2021 and I put this compilation together in his memory. I would have likely never seen it were it not for him and don’t be hard on Ernie Hudson because I saw him interviewed recently and to paraphrase even after appearing in Ghostbusters, Hudson still had trouble finding steady work as an actor, but he would go on to have a prolific career on both the big screen and small screens. So I hope you enjoy and thank you for your time and consideration.
Click on the text image below to view the video on YouTube. Thank you.