Stallone's gone up in my appreciation, to my surprise. Back in the 1980s, I always saw Stallone as a bit of a joke. However he's an actor, screenwriter and director who's been Oscar-nominated in two of those roles and has been working hard in the business for forty years now. He's pushed himself in things like Cop Land. He's pulled himself out of nowhere in the last few years with Rambo, Rocky Balboa and The Expendables. Besides, I realised that I liked Stallone in most of the few films I've seen him in, such as Demolition Man and, yes, Judge Dredd. He's made a lot of trash and Schwarzenegger has the more iconic filmography, but... you know, I've just talked myself into checking out his Get Carter remake.
Two months later...
I liked that. In fact, I'd say it's more enjoyable than Michael Caine's 1971 original
, which is a cold, cold film and trying very successfully to be ugly, bleak, mean-spirited and unpleasant.
The problem unfortunately is that back in 2000, the studio thought this was rubbish and didn't show it to critics before releasing it into cinemas. The idea was to avoid negative reviews and hence maximise the box-office before word of mouth could get around, but unfortunately people tend to notice and talk about the very fact that you're doing this. Warner Brothers thus succeeded in bracketing its own movie with the unloved likes of The Avengers (1998), House on Haunted Hill (1999), Highlander: Endgame (2000), etc. Yikes. This can also irritate not just the critics but the talent, as for instance when Winona Ryder and Richard Gere took exception to this treatment being given to their latest film, Autumn in New York.
Here I think it's a particular misjudgement, because this happens to be a rather good film. What it's not is an action movie. If you go in expecting a Sylvester Stallone blood and thunder flick, you're going to be walking out again within half an hour... which is exactly what was reported by the New York Times. The film took less than 20 million worldwide on a 63.6 million budget and the proposed sequel never happened.
Personally I think the studio goofed. If they'd advertised it properly, so that people knew what they'd be seeing, I think it would have been better respected. Did they try to sell it as Rambo 4 or something? Personally I'd call it more entertaining than the Michael Caine original, but it's also slow and layered, more or less a detective story from the days of film noir.
Sylvester Stallone is good in the title role. I like Stallone. He has an unfortunate knack of making catchphrases sound like catchphrases (see Judge Dredd), but nonetheless he's giving a proper performance as his character goes from being a mob enforcer to finding some kind of redemption. He does well in the all-important relationship with Rachael Leigh Cook, while of course he's more physically intimidating than Michael Caine ever was. His beard makes him look evil, those veins on his shoulder are kind of disturbing and he looks as if he's been squeezed like toothpaste into that Las Vegas suit and tie. Caine was scary in an ice-cold, psychopathic way. Stallone's scary like a pit bull on its hind legs. He makes the film work, no matter that it's fairly familiar ground for him, and I think he brings a lot to it.
As for the other actors, they're bigger stars than their 1971 equivalents. There are three Oscar nominees here in Mickey Rourke, Miranda Richardson and of course Stallone himself, while the (Oscar-winning) Mighty Caine is in both movies. He was only going to have a cameo here until test audiences liked him so much that the studio gave him more scenes. This hurts the plot, but you can never have too much Caine. Alan Cumming made me laugh, by the way, although that's not a comedy role.
What else can I say? I think it works. It's respectful of the 1971 film, but it's making its own choices. There's no equivalent of the laugh-out-loud scene where Caine takes a walk as nature intended, for instance. The same original novel has become a new story. It's warmer, more optimistic. Stallone's Jack Carter doesn't murder any prostitutes and the ending's been tamed, which is certainly going to be a point of contention for fans of the original. Just don't expect an action film. It has violence, yes, but it's slow-paced and more akin to Chandler or Hammett. It's clearly less distinctive than the original, but even so I'd call this a solid, atmospheric, well-acted film that deserved a far better reception than it got. Seriously underrated, I think.