This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
Get Carter, in it’s original 1971 Mike Hodges form, is one of the greatest movies this little island has ever produced. Vanguard of the new wave of gritty, anti-hero laden gangster films featuring a white-hot turn from titular star Michael Caine, it would continually trouble theOneliner top ten lists were we actually to make any. If you haven’t seen it, stop doing whatever it is you’re doing (probably reading this website), locate a copy and watch it. The rest of your life can wait. Don’t worry, we’ll wait for you.
Ah, I see you’re back. Awfully good, wasn’t it? Difficult to improve on, no? Which is exactly why news of this Y2K remake starring Sylvester Stallone, of all people, was met from this corner with the application of fingers to ear canals and loud exclamations of “na na na na, can’t hear you, refuse to acknowledge your existence”. Sadly, time and idle curiosity make uneasy bedfellows, so five years after the fact I find myself watching a film I’m already convinced won’t be any good. As it happens, it isn’t any good, but not in quite the ways expected.
As befits an adaptation, it’s not straying wildly from the source material barring a shift in location over the pond from the Grim North. Here Jack Carter (Stallone), a Las Vegas debt collector, heads back home following the death of his younger brother Richie. The now-widowed Gloria (Miranda Richardson) and half-orphaned Doreen (Rachel Leigh Cook) don’t exactly welcome him with open arms, following his unexplained five year absence from their life. Asking around about the circumstances of his Richie’s death, thing don’t seem to quite add up.
Given the nature of the beast, telling you details of the seedy underworld Richie was tangentially involved in would be annoying for those yet to see the film, given that it would utterly ruin it, and pointless for viewers of the original, as bar some locational and temporal tweaking it’s more or less equivalent. The video nasties of the original becomes internet pornography fronted by old acquaintance/enemy Cryus Paice (Mickey Rourke), who’s history with Carter is alluded to yet never made crystal clear, gratifyingly. There always seems to be a need for overexposition of character histories in many films of this ilk that winds up feeling hugely contrived. “Hey, Bob, remember four years back when I kidnapped your dog, butchered it and fed it to your guests at your dinner party?” “How, barring blows to the head or mental illness, could I forget?”
Entangled in these webs in varying capacities are gazillionaire computer whizzkid Bill Gates-alike Jeremy Kinnear (Alan Cumming) and Richie’s ex-boss, bar owner Cliff Brumby (Michael Caine). Add Carter’s debt-collecting partner Con McCarty (the dependably endearing John C. McGinley) trying to ‘convince’ him to return back to Vegas on the instructions of their boss, and there’s more than enough potential for double crossing, plot unfolding shenanigans.
Which for the most part, Neuvo Get Carter supplies, although for anyone who’s seen Get Carter Classic they’ll unfold in similar enough ways to the first film to make you wonder why they’ve bothered to redo it. I suppose, had you never seen the original, this flick will be viewed in such a different light that my views on it are of little use to you. Apart, that is, from this one – the original version does the same stuff much, much better. Assuming that’s sorted them out, should those enamoured with the ‘real’ version go out of their way to see this new breed?
No, but also yes. It’s nothing like as good a film, but the differences are interesting and occasionally subtle enough to prove interesting. Caine’s Carter had a refined danger to him – when he orders bitter in a tall glass you instinctively know that calling him a nancy would be a life shortening decision. No matter how messy things would get, and no matter how nasty, brutal a man Carter/Caine was violence never seemed preferred option. Stallone’s Carter, in terms of what he says and does isn’t much different, yet still comes off as a far more thuggish take on the character. Perhaps Carter/Stallone’s physicality counts against him here, despite the hugely impressive shape Sly’s maintained when combined with the trademark Sly Slur it seems that Carter/Stallone ought to be the monkey rather than the organ grinder.
That said, Sly otherwise does very well. With a caveat of some silly scripting attempting to hamstring him, that is. Carter does not need a catchphrase, and attempting to work ‘take it to the next level’ and ‘you don’t want to know me’ into two of them was hugely ill advised. Appropriating the more memorable lines of the first film wholesale wasn’t that great an idea either. Caine’s delivery made at least two of the lines from Get Carter iconic of the British film industry, and hearing Stallone tell Caine, of all people, that he’s a big man but out of shape and that for him it’s a full time job is wrong on so many levels. In fact it’s probably enough to have those already disgruntled of the idea of a transatlantic remake reaching for the eject button.
The rest of the cast do their best, with an oddly watchable turn from Mickey Rourke who wasn’t exactly doling them out willy nilly back in these days. As Carter’s nemesis he looks like he can handle the physical responsibilities, although the unkind may comment on the battle of the two fifty-plus year olds beating each other up on film as trying to recapture former glories. Caine at times looks like he can’t quite be bothered with the whole thing, but even a halfhearted Michael Caine performs better than most other actors. Rachael Leigh Cook winds up having a believable relationship with Stallone which provides the necessary, albeit slightly overwrought heart of the piece and Alan Cumming is, well, Alan Cumming.
I’m placed in the odd position of having to moan about not changing or reinterpreting the original enough to warrant a remake while at the same time moaning about the things that they have changed. If they’d gone one way or t’other then the film may have proven more acceptable than the uncomfortable half way house it finds itself in. Partly it’s director Stephen Kay’s fault; he can’t seem to make up his mind whether this is a cutting edge new wave grit fest or a light hearted harken back to the seventies. Some very now jump cutting shenanigans is later mixed with some very then scene transitions, and while the overall effect is strangely likeable it’s a little slapdash.
The only update that really works is of the soundtrack, although it’s a hell of a base to work from. Roy Budd’s seminal soundscapes get a funked up makeover that, while not as perfectly fitted to the action as Budd’s scoring does a sterling job of keeping things bouncing along. Nice as it is, it’s also following the general theme of the film, that being ‘like the original, but not as good’. I suppose you could give it credit for blazing a trail; it feels like every other film made in the intervening five years has been either a remake or a comic book adaptation, but that’s not really something we’re celebrating round here.