A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Among the scenes of training and fighting, the movie is trying to say something about the deeply corrupt, racist, and exploitative American prison system, how it has become a business, and how Black and Brown people are targeted to fill empty cells.
Positive Role Models
While Savage and Bones are likable and strong, they've made critical mistakes in their lives, turning to crime and murder to solve problems. But they've also learned lessons, and, in the end, there's hope that they can turn their lives around.
Two Black men are at the center of this story, but they're convicted of crimes and are inside the prison system. (Their circumstances are intended to inspire empathy -- each was trying to take care of his family.) Other Black characters are depicted as being stuck in a racist system. The prison has various "mafias" organized by race, including a Latino one, a Black one, and one with White supremacists. Very few women are seen, but one woman of color is a prison guard who risks her life to save the main character. Another Black woman is a lawyer who's fighting to get the main character out of prison. A person of short stature is completely tokenized, showing up only to ding round bells during prison fights and occasionally fist-bump the warden.
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Violence & Scariness
Killings, dead bodies, blood smears, pools of blood, etc. Many fight scenes, with punching, kicking, martial arts, slamming bodies against surfaces, breaking bones, etc. Guard stabbed. Characters fight multiple opponents at once. People get knocked unconscious. Hitting with butt of gun. Characters Tased. Fighting with shivs/blades. Character with sharpened teeth bites the main character. Fighting with mop handle. Guns and shooting. Character injected with tracking chip. Threats. Swastika tattoo. Dialogue: "psycho rapist put his hands on my sister" and "I beat that predator to death."
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Scantily clad women work in drug warehouses. Brief, crass sex-related dialogue. ("I want Cindy Crawford to rub my balls.")
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Constant, extremely strong language, including within several hardcore hip-hop songs on the soundtrack: "f--k," "motherf----r," the "N" word, "s--t," "a--hole," "dumbass," "bitch," "goddamn," "bastard," "monkey boy," "ass," "balls," "hell."
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Products & Purchases
Mentions of Burger King and McDonald's/McNuggets/McRibs (in a description of prison as a franchise). Mention of "What's in your wallet?" (ads for Capital One).
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Drug warehouses shown; people weigh and package cocaine, marijuana, etc., plus plastic-wrapped piles of cash. Warden regularly smokes a cigar. Cigarette smoking. Background drinking.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The System is an action-drama about an illegal fighting ring in a private prison. It centers on former Marine Terry Savage (Tyrese Gibson), an inmate who must find proof of human rights violations in order to be released and get back to his ailing daughter. It's sometimes ridiculous, but it does have relevant messages about corruption and racism. There's lots of intense, violent fighting -- punching, kicking, bashing, etc. -- plus guns and shooting, deaths, blood pools/smears, stabbing, broken bones, tasing, and more. A woman is stabbed, and there's a mention of rape. Language includes constant use of "f--k," "motherf----r," and more, plus the "N" word many times in the soundtrack. There are some scantily clad women and a crass line of sex-related dialogue. Drug warehouses are shown, with packages of cocaine, marijuana, etc. Characters smoke cigars and cigarettes, and there's background drinking. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Ranging from preachy to lazy to flat-out ridiculous, this prison-fight drama benefits from committed work by Gibson and Howard, but they can't overcome saggy storytelling and uninspired filmmaking. The System offers a lot of commentary -- all of it searingly relevant -- on the corruption, exploitation, and racism of the prison system. But it inserts all of this commentary into pockets of awkward expositional dialogue and ends up sounding irritating rather than inspirational. And the Dungeon fights are like a cheap parody of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (they all look like they were all filmed on the same day).
During the fights, an overacting Piven literally sits on a throne and shouts "come on!" in a Southern accent, while a comical fight announcer (rapper Lil Yachty) makes needless comments ("Welcome to the Dungeon!"), and a tokenized person of short stature is there only to ding the round bells and occasionally fist-bump the warden. And some details just aren't very smart, such as a cell phone that the commissioner has left for Terry in the apparently impenetrable prison, which Terry uses throughout without anyone ever noticing. Not to mention that overarching plot threads -- such as the warden offering to bring Terry in on the prison's secret drug business -- make absolutely no sense. Finally, everything in The System ties up a little too neatly, especially given how complex the problem is.
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.