Ostensibly focusing on the first basketball tournament between four state prison teams, docu “Prison Ball” spends most of its time making familiar accusations of the U.S. prison system in general, while making little use of a titular theme that might’ve made pic’s message uniquely involving. So-so effort’s repetitiousness and unnecessary musicvideo-like montages will make it easy to trim for 60- or even 30-minute broadcast slots.
Intention here is undoubtedly earnest, but first-time featuremakers Jason Moriarty, Michael Butler and Theo Rozsa provide generic insights into the burgeoning prison industry and its underlying sociopolitical-economic causes — via soundbites from inmates, staff and outside experts — without developing much human or narrative interest. Storytelling opportunities practically stare pic in the face, given access to the four Louisiana basketball teams as they excitedly (and with limited resources) prepare for an unprecedented daylong match. Instead, “Prison Ball” opts for endless talking heads and MTV-type editorial filler until climactic games finally dominate the last reel. Rapper Ice-T awkwardly reads stilted Sociology 101 narration; soundtrack is full of prominent hip-hop and rap-metal artists. Tech aspects are adequate.