Get Carter, the 1971 gangster flick starring Michael Caine, is a classic. Get Carter, the 2000 gangster flick starring Sylverster Stallone, is not. Such is the way of things. The most difficult thing about watching this movie is knowing that a better alternative exists.
Directed by Stephen Kay from a screenplay by David McKenna, Get Carter is the second adaptation of Ted Lewis’s novel Jack’s Return Home. Sly stars as Jack Carter, a thug who collects outstanding debts for a Las Vegas crime boss. Jack returns home to Seattle after learning of the death of his brother, Ritchie. The death doesn’t seem to be on the up and up, so he decides to stick around and see what he can find out.
Everyone Jack meets, including Ritchie’s friends, colleagues, and spouse, want him to leave. No one wants a critical eye turned towards Ritchie’s death because, of course, he was murdered. In order to find out why, and to exact revenge, Jack must cut his way through Seattle’s underbelly. And it is a scuzzy place to be. One of the first people Jack confronts about Ritchie is Cyrus Paice (Mickey Rourke), a crime boss who makes some of his cash with underground pornography.
Paice is a real slime ball, and a role that Rourke just sluices into like water through a sewer pipe. He didn’t have all that much screen time, but he used what he had to good effect. There’s just something about Mickey Rourke. He has natural aggressiveness. The way he carries himself seems designed to make people around him uncomfortable, which is a very useful trait to have in a film like this.
Paice’s partner in crime is a tech guru, something that was still new back in 2000. He is almost-billionaire Jeremy Kinnear (Alan Cumming), founder and CEO of a very successful, Seattle-based tech company. Kinnear has a big bank account and big appetites, and he uses Paice to fulfill those appetites. It’s beginning to look like Ritchie got himself killed over some illegal sex stuff, and that doesn’t sit well with Jack.
Jack continues to ruffle feathers wherever he goes, even bringing down wrath from his gangster buddies back in Vegas. The only friendly face he meets is his niece, Doreen (Rachel Leigh Cook), and even she might be mixed up in all the nonsense surrounding Ritchie’s death.
Get Carter is a flashy new-noir flick. It’s in that flash where the film has its biggest problems. There is a good balance between scenes of violence and action, and scenes of strained dialogue among the criminal types. But it all has this veneer of snappy, sometimes multi- and out-of-sequence editing, and a soundtrack that I think played the third stage at Glastonbury once. The style of filmmaking is more gimmicky than the film required. The story is grit, while the technique is flash.
The thing is, this film didn’t need any of the tricks. Kay was doing just fine as a storyteller, and Sly ran with the role. It’s also worth noting that this is one of the minority of films for Stallone Month where Sly was hired help and nothing else. No producer credit, no screenwriting credit, no directing credit. This is Sly with far less brand trappings than viewers get in most films. There are no motivational speeches and no moral diatribes. There is none of Sly’s personal beliefs bleeding into the character, so we get to see him simply act and nothing else. Well, there’s a reason he’s never won an Oscar for acting, but that doesn’t mean he’s incapable of being believable on screen.
Because Get Carter, the original, has found such cult cachet in the decades since its release, this remake can feel like film sacrilege. This film did not need to be made. The only reason it came about at all is because film is a business, and someone thought some bucks could be made. They were wrong, as it turned out. A largely anonymous crime flick, Get Carter just can’t get out of its predecessor’s shadow.