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VOD Review: Tijuana Jackson: Purpose Over Prison

July 31, 2020

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Written, directed, edited, produced by and starring comic actor Romany Malco, Tijuana Jackson: Purpose Over Prison is a fairly amusing mockumentary that follows an ex-convict’s attempts to go from prison inmate to life coach.

Tijuana Jackson (Malco) is a fast-talking inmate at a Florida prison who has dreams of becoming a motivational speaker, frequently coaching his fellow prisoners and running a blog from jail where he shares inspirational advice to his followers. TJ, as he is known to his friends, becomes the subject of a short documentary that is being made by a college student named Rachel (Shannon Dang), who comes to interview him in jail.

Rachel is planning to make a ten minute short film about the lack of job opportunities for both graduates and prisoners, but TJ is too good of a subject to pass up, and her project rapidly evolves into a feature documentary. Rachel continues to follow TJ as he gets out on parole, and keeps the camera rolling as he gets caught up with his family, made up of Momma (Lyne Odums), sister Sharea (Tami Roman) and nephew Lil’ Eric (Alkoya Brunson), and has frequent run-ins with his strict probation officer Cheryl Wagner (Regina Hall).

Expanded from Malco’s 2011 web series Prison Logic, where he appeared in character as TJ offering life advice to callers, Tijuana Jackson: Purpose Over Prison builds upon the titular character and serves as an energetic showcase for its star. Unfolding entirely in a fake documentary style, the film maintains a comic tone throughout, but also scratches at the surface of some deeper themes about high incarceration rates for African Americans, and how the justice system doesn’t really help people move forward and just catches them in a revolving door.

While Tijuana Jackson: Purpose Over Prison does have a bit of a loose, episodic sketch comedy feel to it, reminiscent of its web series origins, the material here is often amusing and many of Malco’s line deliveries are quite funny. Malco is backed up by a game supporting cast, with Hall taking on the role of straight woman, and Brunson leaving his mark as TJ’s nephew and young wingman. This is overall a lightly enjoyable film that does a fine job of passing the time, and is worth it for a few laughs.

Tijuana Jackson: Purpose Over Prison is being released today on a variety of digital and VOD platforms. It’s distributed in Canada by levelFILM.

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