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Review: Criminally unsubtle penal drama ‘Imprisoned’ wastes top acting talent

Juan Pablo Raba in ‘Imprisoned’
Juan Pablo Raba in the movie “Imprisoned.”
(Cinema Libre Studio)

Told in flashback from the perspective of a remorseful man, the Puerto Rico-set melodrama “Imprisoned,” from writer-director Paul Kampf, advocates against capital punishment through a well-intentioned yet hackneyed scenario devoid of subtly.

Prison warden Daniel Calvin (Laurence Fishburne), a megalomaniac supposedly motivated by personal loss, mobilizes his influence in service of a vendetta and reels ex-con Dylan Burke (Juan Pablo Raba) into his colonial domain to be executed for an old offense. Kampf manages to prompt a dull turn from the usually strong Fishburne as he spearheads a series of sensationalist events bordering on soap opera.

Miraculously, Raba and fellow Colombian thespian Juana Acosta, who plays his activist wife, Maria, instill specks of naturalness into this nuance-adverse production when acting intimate moments in Spanish but fail do replicate that elsewhere. Veteran Latino stars Edward James Olmos and Esai Morales feel adequate in their bit parts, but the material prevents them from shining.

On-the-nose in its use of music cues for emotional effect, this showcase of subpar filmmaking unabashedly regurgitates clichés in a story that shows little concern for the history of the location it is exploiting.

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Bearing in mind how little most Americans know about Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, it’s irresponsible to show men executed by hanging while ignoring that the death penalty was abolished on the island in the 1920s. “Imprisoned” doesn’t claim it’s based on a true story, but it also doesn’t dissuade anyone from thinking that it might be.

‘Imprisoned’
In English and Spanish with English subtitles

Rated: R, for violence, disturbing images, some sexuality and language.

Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes

Playing: Starts Sept. 20, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills


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