Thursday, May 7, 2009

Stephen T. Kay's Get Carter (2000)

Ted Lewis's novel, Jack's Return Home, was made into the iconic and classic 1971 film, Get Carter, directed by Mike Hodges. Michael Caine plays Jack Carter, a gangster who comes back home seeking answers to his brother's mysterious death and his subsequent revenge. A nearly perfect crime film and a quintessential film of 70s cinema, Get Carter is much loved by film fans. Nearly ten years ago, Hollywood was in full swing, littering the cinemas with remakes of the older classics: some were unforgivable, like Gus Van Sant's Psycho (1998), while some were quite popular, like Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven (2001). In 2000, Ted Lewis's novel and Hodges's classic film would get the reboot with Stephen Kay's Get Carter, starring 80s action phenom, Sylvester Stallone. I missed this one the first time around and just recently broke open the flimsy cardboard flapper DVD box to give it a spin. Almost a decade from its original theatrical run, saved from the well-lit cinemas of mobile phones, and poor critical and popular reviews, would Get Carter be worth the time?
Sylvester Stallone, like Jack Carter, had seen good times and bad times before 2000's Get Carter (Cliffhanger (1993) and Judge Dredd (1995), for example, respectively). Carter opens with a foot chase on the Vegas strip, where mob enforcer, Carter, runs down a non-paying creep. He begins to pummel the poor loser with his fists while wise-cracking John C. McGinley tells him to calm down. Cut to Seattle, Carter's hometown, where Reggie, Jack's brother, is being buried. The funeral gives the film the opportunity to introduce the other players in this drama: Reggie's widow (Miranda Richardson), his daughter (Rachel Leigh Cook), and his mistress (Rhona Mitra). Reggie apparently died in a drunk-driving accident, but Carter believes that it was murder. Carter visits the bar where his brother worked, run by Michael Caine, which leads him to cyberspace pornographer, Cyrus, Mickey Rourke, and internet mogul, Kinnear, Alan Cumming. Stallone's Carter is the very definition of confrontational: every encounter begins with a few questions with the expectations of honest answers or serious bodily injury will occur.
One of the reasons that Hodges's original Get Carter was so successful was the performance of Michael Caine. Caine played Jack Carter as a quiet and cool character, who was able to convey a simmering burning rage deep inside of him. Every character whom he encountered was instilled with fear that at any moment Carter could snap with psychotic rage. The film flowed from his emotions, quietly and coolly. Carter's credibility as having a propensity for brutal violence was revealed over the course of the film. It's a masterful performance. Stallone's credibility as a bad mofo, however, began at the movie poster. His hulking appearance and his ability to intimidate people physically is immediately apparent. Stallone's Carter scares the crap out of people at first glance. Even Rourke's Cyrus, who is Stallone's equal in physical stature, gives a twitch of the eye in fear during their first meeting. Stallone's performance plays to his "strength," and most of the action scenes and confrontations are filmed with few words and many big fists. Stallone delivers some of the most brutal beatdowns in his cinema history.The film's screenplay, penned by David McKenna, is the weakest aspect of Get Carter. Rachel Leigh Cook delivers my favorite lines, such as "Don't feel sorry for me. You don't even know me. You're just a picture on the piano." The bonding scenes with Stallone and Cook are, for the most part, painful, as they take a cue from Hollywood characters who are too cool to talk honestly and directly. These characters make jokes and talk in circles. Miranda Richardson is a fine actress, who is wasted in a small role, and Michael Caine's inclusion in the film is just a respectiveful nod to the great actor. Rourke's intense and his performance is good, but the lines coming out of his mouth are truly awful. Stallone's performance would have been better if the script were, but as it stands, he hasn't lost any of butt-kicking skills (as 2008's Rambo cemented). Stephen Kay doesn't fit nicely into my geeky film auteur theory. Kay previously penned the screenplay to The Mod Squad (1999) and subsequently directed the mediocre Boogeyman (2005). In between those projects, he also had an acting stint on the soap opera, General Hospital. If he's a director-for-hire, then Kay made good use of his commercial bag of tricks, as Get Carter is filled with visual flourishes, ranging from dutch angles to swirling crane shots. Ambient dance music and lots of color, Get Carter is as slick-looking as it gets.

As Get Carter stands, it is not memorable and it is not horrible. I found the DVD in a discount bin in a large corporate shopping center and perhaps fittingly, this is the best way to see this one.

1 comment:

Mr.LargePackage said...

The fact that Michael Caine played a quiet and cool character in the original sounds very familiar, and that is large and in charge.