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When his brother is killed in a suspicious accident, Jack Carter (Stallone), a Las Vegas loan shark collector, returns home to Seattle looking for answers. Carter soon comes to suspect that his brother was murdered and sets out to discover the truth – and take revenge on those responsible. Soon he is embroiled in a deadly web of intrigue involving an internet porn ring, local mobsters and a corrupt computer billionaire.

It may be a cliché, but revenge really is a dish best served cold. It certainly proved the right recipe for the 1971 British gangster flick Get Carter, starring Michael Caine as an out of control hitman bent on avenging his brother’s death. Jack Carter was arguably the nastiest, most reprehensible hero ever to sully the big screen, a misanthropic killer unflinching in his brutality.

Fast forward 20 years and we have a remake starring Sylvester Stallone. This time the revenge is warmed over and the film suffers as a result. As a debt collector in Las Vegas, Stallone’s Carter does violence for a living but he’s murderous only in hot blood. He can be driven to kill, but also knows mercy. Carter’s return home is a chance not just for revenge but redemption as he renews his bonds with an estranged family and learns how to forgive. Way to dilute a revenge drama.

Carter is both brutal bruiser and caring new age man. It’s an uneasy mix and Stallone’s acting chops are insufficient to carry off so complex a character. Sly flits uncomfortably between explosions of violence (at which he excels) and fuzzy bonding sessions as a caring uncle (in which he bores). The director also cops out by cutting away from Carter’s most vicious acts, allowing Stallone to keep his hands movie-star clean.

Of course, it is doubtful the bleak original would find favour with today’s multiplex masses either. Stallone’s fans are hardly likely to accept their hero playing so unsympathetic a character. Perhaps a fairer test for Get Carter is whether it stands up in isolation from the original. It doesn’t. On the audio commentary, director Stephen Kay refers several times to an on-set debate over the film’s direction. Kay appears to have wanted a dark character study (supporting evidence is provided by the inclusion of deleted scenes), Stallone and the studio a glitzy action movie. In the end neither side seems to have won, and the film is as conflicted as its protagonist. The contrast between Las Vegas and Seattle (swinging London and grimy Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the original), one absolutely essential to the narrative, is lost as the moody, rain-soaked town explodes periodically with glamorously choreographed car chases and fights in five-star hotels.

Attempts to update the thriller meet with mixed success. The writers wisely expand the roles of Carter’s niece Doreen (Rachael Leigh Cook) and sister-in-law (Miranda Richardson), giving the movie a less misogynistic feel than the original. But the substitution of property developers for nerdy computer billionaires – complete with pocket protector jokes – feels forced, an embarrassing lunge for the zeitgeist. Stallone’s Carter looks like a WWF wrestler with his greasy hair and goatee beard, while a ridiculous Mickey Rourke is mutton dressed as lamb as night-clubbing porn peddler Cyrus Paice. Not even Alan Cumming escapes unscathed, forced to play with toy cars and prance like a spoilt child as the billionaire techno-brat. Caine lends some class to the proceedings, but it’s telling that the best feature on this DVD release is the original 1971 trailer, featuring Sir Michael in his menacing prime.
Stuart Whitmore

Published August 23, 2001

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See our DVD review of the original GET CARTER


CAST: Sylvester Stallone, Miranda Richardson, Rachael Leigh Cook, Alan Cumming, Mickey Rourke, Michael Caine

DIRECTOR: Stephen Kay

RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: July 11, 2001

Widescreen feature presentation; Audio commentary (by the director); Theatrical trailer; Trailer for original 1971 version; Talent profiles; Deleted scenes; Subtitles: English; Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1

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