Get Carter
review by Dan Lybarger, 13 October 2000

Watching the current remake of the 1970 British classic Get Carter is like eating a piece of chocolate-covered broccoli: these two "great tastes" do not "taste great" together. The remake is nothing more than a grim story about a gangster investigating his brotherís death laced with Touched by an Angel sentimentality.

The 2000 version gets off to a bad start and, unlike its protagonist, never recovers. The original theme music mixes badly with director Stephen Kayís (The Last Time I Committed Suicide) MTV-indebted visuals. Stalloneís muscular physique, shades, tattoos and goatee beard might intimidate some, but his brooding attitude seems all wrong. Unlike his mushmouthed peer, Arnold Schwartzenegger (who radiates a confident charisma that makes up for missing dramatic chops), Stallone constantly seems to have to prove his toughness. In the process, he comes across like a muscle-bound geek. The acting skills he demonstrated in Copland are almost never in evidence here.

Itís a rare occurrence when a movieís leading man is continually upstaged by entire supporting cast, but thatís exactly what happens in the "Millenium Edition" of Get Carter. When Jack Carter (Stallone) finds out that his clean-living brother has died mysteriously in a messy drunk driving incident, he heads to Seattle to pay his respects. The ideal picture Jack envisioned of his brotherís life is not matching with the facts. Jackís widowed sister-in-law (a sadly underutilized Miranda Richardson) admits to having differences with her husband and is barely on speaking terms with her daughter (Sheís All Thatís Rachel Leigh Cook). His late brotherís bar is co-owned by an evasive fellow (the original Jack Carter, Michael Caine), who never gives Jack the details he requests. The gangster quickly discovers that Seattle can be just as corrupt as his hometown, Las Vegas. Thereís a cyber-porn racket run by an ex-gangster (Mickey Roarke) and secretly financed by a wimpy computer tycoon (Alan Cumming). All of these people are hiding something, and Jack finds himself carrying the double burden of playing detective and staying alive as both Vegas and Seattle thugs try to do him in.

With all of this activity, itís hard to think of another movie where danger has looked more boring. The original film had a gritty, realistic feel that made the outbursts of violence seem more shocking. When writer-director Mike Hodges (Croupier) adapted Ted Lewisí novel for the 1970 version, he changed the amorphous setting to Newcastle, England. As a result, the dense rundown atmosphere gave the story an entirely new level of tension. Hodges captured the city so well, that a viewer feels like he or she can find their way around the town without having to use a map. In the new version, screenwriter David McKenna (American History X and the insufferable Body Shots) moves the backdrop to the Space Needle City and reveals:

  • It rains a lot there.
  • King County residents drink lots of lattes.
  • Many cyber geeks call Seattle home.
  • The communityís computer tycoons accumulated their wealth through unseemly means.

Because it dwells in a stereotypical version of the city (that could have been written by anyone who had never set foot in the city), Get Carter is never believable or involving. Kay edits and shoots the movie in a stylized "I want to John Woo when I grow up" mode that makes everything seem even more phony. McKenna makes things even worse by plagiarizing many of Hodgesí best lines. Caineís bitter unrepentant attitude made the hard lines frightening. When Cain describes another manís eyes as looking like "p**s holes in the snow, a viewer recoils in fear. When Stallone flatly mumbles, "cat p**s in the snow," one giggles. Casting Caine in the new movie,only reminds us that, even after all of these years, he is more intimidating and charming on screen than Stallone will ever be.

The new version follows the previous storyline closely. This is another mistake because Hodges used the early portions of his version to soften up the audience before he went in for the kill. Kay attempts to make an action film out of this story, but the slow pace, and his sloppy staging blunt his efforts. Kay comes up with dozens of gorgeous blue-tinted images, but he canít edit car chases to save his life. Even when there are only two vehicles, these scenes are hard to follow.

The executives who backed this movie can be understood for wanting to change Hodgesí grim tale into a crowd-pleaser. Why back a big-budget movie that will alienate squeamish viewers like the 1970-version did? Unfortunately, by taking away Jack Carterís meanness and unquenchable libido (the original featured a delightfully ghastly scene where Caine has phone sex with one woman as another sits in front of him), the new movie reduces him to a boring thug. Without the morbidity, thereís not enough action or anything else to hold oneís interest. The original film, despite its grit, pleased enough people to have a cult following and to be voted by the British Film Institute as the sixteenth best British film ever made (The Third Man was number one). The new film pleases no one.

There is a silver lining here. Hodgeís original has just come out on a stacked DVD, so that viewers can finally see Get Carter in its widescreen glory and can even listen to Hodgesí audio commentary. The new version of Get Carter should get lost.

Directed by:
Stephen Kay

Starring:
Sylvester Stallone
Miranda Richardson
Rachel Leigh Cook
Mickey Roarke
Alan Cumming
Michael Caine

Written by:
David McKenna

Based on the 
Novel by:
 
Ted Lewis

FULL CREDITS

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