[Screen It]

"GET CARTER"
(2000) (Sylvester Stallone, Rachael Leigh Cook) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama/Action-Adventure: When a sullen, Vegas debt collector discovers that his brother has been murdered, he sets out to find the killer and deliver his own form of justice and revenge.
PLOT:
Jack Carter (SYLVESTER STALLONE) is a sullen, but well-dressed Vegas debt collector who's known for his physical means of getting the job done. When he learns that his brother, Ritchie, was killed in a drunk driving accident, Jack returns home to Seattle where he tries to make amends with his brother's wife, Gloria (MIRANDA RICHARDSON), and her teenage daughter, Doreen (RACHAEL LEIGH COOK), while questioning everyone about his brother's death.

Eventually realizing that his brother was probably murdered, Jack starts snooping around, while his partner back in Vegas (JOHN C. McGINLEY) covers for him. His first stop is with Cliff Brumby (MICHAEL CAINE), the owner of the club that Ritchie managed. Brumby doesn't believe Jack's allegations of murder, but does tell him that Ritchie was having an affair with Geraldine (RHONA MITRA), a local barfly and associate of mobster and part-time porn producer, Cyrus Paice (MICKEY ROURKE).

Jack and Cyrus know each other from way back, and while he can't get anything from him, Paice unknowingly leads Jack to Jeremy Kinnear (ALAN CUMMING), a computer multimillionaire who uses Paice's services for female accompaniment, as well as Eddie (JOHNNY STRONG), one of the club's unsavory employees. Although he can't get any straight answers from any of the suspects, Jack continues to pursue the truth, carefully examining the surveillance tapes from Brumby's club, looking for anything that might offer any sort of clue.

As he continues his quest to find and punish those responsible for killing his brother, and tries to deal with his strained relationship with his brother's family as well as with Audrey (GRETCHEN MOL), his lover back in Vegas who wants to break up with him since she is his boss' girlfriend or wife, Jack begins to realize that maybe this isn't the life for him.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
As any parent knows all too well, kids love to ask questions and will often drive their parents and older siblings crazy by their endless supply of "Whys?" that follow any explanation that attempts to answer their questions. Examples are "Why is the sky blue?" "Why does daddy have hair all over his back?" and the ever probing query and circuitous follow-up that accompany witty exchanges such as, "What are you doing?" -- ("Mowing the lawn") - "Why?" - ("Because it needs to be mowed") - "Why?" -- (Because if I don't, the grass will grow too high") - "Why?" - ("Just trust me") - "Why?" and so on.

Despite such grand inquisitions, kids aren't purposefully trying to be brats and/or drive you mad with the ceaseless questions (okay, sometimes that might be true). Instead, they're simply examining their world and trying to get a grasp on the rules, how things work and why people behave and do what they do. As adults, we continue this process, but usually aren't so naively blunt about asking, "Why is the net income on my check so much less than the gross?" and "Why does my hubby have hair all over his back? What purpose does that serve?"

When applied to certain aspects of the moviemaking world, the lack of concrete, valid or believable answers to certain questions can make one feel like a frustrated kid again. For instance, one might ask what in the world George Lucas was thinking when he created Jar-Jar Binks. Others will wonder why certain directors remake old films instead up coming up with their own ideas, and some will question why some actors continue to get what seem like prime starring, and probably high-paying, roles when they haven't had a hit in years.

Those last two can be applied to this week's release of "Get Carter," a remake of the original 1971 film of the same name (originally based on Ted Lewis' novel "Jack's Return Home) that starred Michael Caine in the title role as an English gangster investigating his brother's death. Somewhat of a cult classic and known at the time for its cold and calculating protagonist and overall demeanor, the film obviously had and has the makings for a decent film, but when will the cinematic tomb raiding end?

Then there's the question of why Sylvester Stallone choose this as his follow-up to his critically acclaimed role in "Cop Land" and then wait three years to do so? And why was director Stephen T. Kay allowed to work on another film after being involved in the big screen remake of "The Mod Squad" (he was one of the co-writers)? If ever the three strikes and you're out criminal law were to be applied to films, this is the right place to start, with Kay getting only one more chance before being locked away in movie jail.

That's because this film is flat, boring and poorly made when it should have been just the opposite, and much of that blame lies squarely on Kay's shoulders. While we can appreciate his and screenwriter David McKenna's ("American History X," "Body Shots") attempts to add some profundity to the proceedings - specifically by having the protagonist develop a conscience and want to change his ways - such depth here is nothing but murky, muddy and slows down the film's erratic pacing way too much.

Besides, attempts to do just that in films such as this are almost always too obvious, rarely actually work, and usually irritate the fan base that has bought tickets hoping to get a serious testosterone injection while watching stars such as Stallone kick some serious gluteus maximus.

While there are a few moments of that - that serve as bookends around the dreadfully boring "drama" - they're rather flat in execution and don't engage the viewer on any level other than being tedious. While Kay tries to enliven such moments by using all sorts of flashy MTV-style shooting and post-production techniques - some of which seem to borrow/steal from director David "Fight Club" Fincher - little of that actually works. The results - when combined with the film's fragmented nature (from scene to scene and even within singular scenes) and contrived and unbelievable character motivation - results far more often in the viewer being distracted rather than engaged by the story and the filmmakers' efforts.

The film's biggest problem, however, is with the protagonist and the way in which Sylvester Stallone ("Daylight," the "Rocky" and "Rambo" films) plays him. When his character says in the opening scene that he's Jack Carter and we don't want to know him, he's completely right. While that line delivery is supposed to make him come off as menacing with a dry sense of humor, it only proves to be correct in that we don't like his character and aren't impressed with his behavior and/or style of vengeance.

While few such characters of this genre are likable in the traditional sense of the word where we'd want to have them over for dinner, often times they're fascinating sorts, such as was the case with Terence Stamp in "The Limey," Mel Gibson in "Payback" and many such characters played by Clint Eastwood. Here, Stallone's character is neither interesting nor engaging.

The same holds true for Mickey Rourke ("Angel Heart," "Diner") as the equally muscle-bound villain. While he seems perfectly cast for the role, Rourke's take on the character is just as flat and boring as Stallone's. Other than doing the extended cameo sort of thing by appearing in the remake of the film he originally starred in, one has to wonder why Oscar winner Michael Caine ("The Cider House Rules," "Educating Rita") decided to sign on for this film. His performance completes the film's trifecta on boring, poorly developed characters.

Working somewhat better are Alan Cumming ("Titus," "GoldenEye") as a perfectly cast, seedy computer geek (his performance will properly irritate most viewers) and Rachael Leigh Cook ("She's All That," "Living Out Loud") who manages to extract more from her character than one would actually expect. Unfortunately, the same can't be said about Miranda Richardson ("Sleepy Hollow," "The Crying Game") who can't do much with her widow role.

Overall, the film simply isn't very good and doesn't manage to work either as a high-octane thriller or a profound drama featuring action sequences. With poorly developed and less than engaging characters (and questionable motivation), a flashy directorial approach that's more distracting than effective, and a fragmented story structure that derails and/or deadens the film's pacing, "Get Carter" certainly doesn't offer any good answer about why viewers should see it. As such, it rates as just a 3 out of 10.




Reviewed October 6, 2000 / Posted October 7, 2000


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