Stallone slums it in 'Carter'

Monday, October 9th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

By Chris Vognar / The Dallas Morning News

Hollywood might churn out some monotonous product, but at least it knows solid source material. One year after Mel Gibson got down and dirty in Payback, a remake of John Boorman's seedy 1967 crime yarn Point Blank, Sylvester Stallone goes slumming in Get Carter, a remake of Mike Hodges' seedy 1970 crime yarn of the same name.

As you might imagine, things done changed. The original Jack Carter, played by a cocky young Michael Caine, journeyed from London to gloomy Newcastle to investigate and avenge the suspicious death of his brother. Today's Jack Carter, played by a brooding old Stallone, heads from Las Vegas to his old haunts in gloomy Seattle with the same intentions. He doesn't get to match the womanizing enjoyed by Mr. Caine (who has fun here with an extended cameo), but he does get to take part in more car chases and enjoy a much different fate than his predecessor. Suffice it to say that nihilistic climaxes just don't play well in this brand new century.

Stylishly directed by Stephen Kay, the new Carter isn't half as bad as it could have been, and nowhere near low enough to hide from the press (which Warner Bros. did anyway). Aside from having to mutter some embarrassing trademark tough guy lines ("My Name's Carter, and you don't want to know me"; "We're gonna have to take this to another level"), Mr. Stallone rarely shames himself. Sporting a gray-speckled goatee and designer suits, he shapes the role to his limited range and makes the most of the film's world-weary tone.

The new Carter does its best to respect the decidedly unglamorous tone of the original story (Ted Lewis' novel Jack's Return Home). The script hits the ground running, as Jack leaves behind his Vegas thug associates (including stalwart character actor John C. McGinley) to return home and see what happened to his brother. Soon, he's butting heads with sleazebags (a drawling Mickey Rourke as a cyber porn king, a slimy Alan Cumming as a spoiled computer mogul), consoling his widowed sister-in-law (Miranda Richardson) and trying to figure out his enigmatic niece (Rachael Leigh Cook).

Some will be put off by Mr. Kay's overly busy aesthetic; jump cuts and switches in film stock often strain to reflect Carter's spiraling state of mind. But they also feel like a reasonable 2000 correlative to the original film's hard, slick feel, which probably would have felt forced in this updated version. The new Get Carter looks a lot more polished than most of its multiplex neighbors, mostly because it bothers to have a style at all.

That said, something definitely gets lost in Carter's transfer over one continent and three decades. Films such as the original Carter, Point Blank and Alfie felt dangerous in a particularly English way, marked by restraint and a savage suaveness. Where Steven Soderbergh's The Limey recaptured this tone with class, Get Carter merely does it with style – a distinction that becomes more obvious as Carter lurches toward the finish line. Such shortcomings may be little more than a sign of the time's commercial requirements, but it's still a bit sad for those who know the forefathers.

It's easy to imagine the uninitiated walking away from the polished bleakness of Get Carter with an empty feeling. They would do well to rent the real deal and get a more precise idea of where the remake falls short. Fans of the first film, meanwhile, should check out Sly's take and be thankful for the stuff it got right.