The System (2022, USA)

Maybe new prisoner Terry Savage (Tyrese Gibson) should have been suspicious when the Police Commissioner implored him to go undercover in the Degnan Correctional Institute, a private prison, because they had nobody to tell them about all the evil things that were going down in there – but still managed to get an encrypted cell phone into his cell before he arrived. Maybe the viewer should have been suspicious at the first point at which it becomes evident that the serious ‘human rights violations (and) corruption’ that the Commissioner was keen to root out are principally, aside from a thriving drug dealership, a fight club.

Savage is a decorated Special Ops war hero (what else?) driven to do a robbery on a drug house to fund the medical treatment of his gravely ill daughter, DJ. He reluctantly agrees to go undercover in the prison to get dirt on the Warden in order to secure his early release. All he wants is to be with DJ.

Inevitably, he has trouble settling in. He tells Freeway (Marrese Crump), the prison’s top dog and best fighter, that he wants to be his own man, which puts him on the outer. The Aryan gang taunt him and attack him, but come off second best. After his spell in the ‘bean hole’, the entrepreneurial Warden Lucas (Jeremy Piven) gives him a new cellmate, ‘Bones’ (Terrence Howard), who is not coincidentally the prison’s top fight instructor. Savage discovers that every Friday the Warden puts on a show in ‘The Dungeon’, where prisoners fight other prisoners, and the Warden has high hopes for him.

A little bizarrely, Savage is visited by a Veterans’ Affairs worker and anti-private prison campaigner, Janette Johnson (Arielle Prepetit), who also wants to get him out of prison. Despite the prison’s capacity to facilitate visits, it seems that no prisoner has ever spoken about The Dungeon to anyone and the fight club remains a closely guarded secret.

Savage fights in it – with increasing brutality – and predictably wins against all comers. Seen as an emerging threat, he is attacked by two of Freeway’s henchmen, one of whom accidentally stabs a guard, Gina (Laura Aleman), who tries to intervene.  The police are not called, of course. The Warden has the two would-be assailants shot and killed, and Freeway is severely rapped over the knuckles for allowing them to carry out an attack without seeking his prior approval. No-one bats an eyelid.

When Savage defeats Freeway and he ascends to top dog, the prison’s corrupt world opens up to him. There are a few twists and turns left in the plot, but this is not the sort of movie where evil triumphs.

There are very few redeeming features in this film. It is unimaginative and derivative. The prison elements don’t stand up, and (although I’m a very poor judge) the fight scenes seem lacklustre. Worse still, it seems to make some lame pretence at social commentary: ” (It’s) hard to regulate these private prisons”. On the other hand, Gibson does an OK job of a brooding ex-Marine, and the relationship Savage forms with Bones is more interesting than the bulk of the film. But let’s face it, it’s all been done before.

And I’m still trying to work out how Savage’s cell phone continued to work without a charger.




Posted on February 13th, 2023 at 9:50 am. Updated on February 13th, 2023 at 9:50 am.

#424 in the Top 500

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