Get Carter

(Stephen Kay, USA, 2000)


This new version of the British crime classic Get Carter (1971) follows the basic outline of the original, while lightly modernising the action and relocating it to America.

Jack Carter (Sylvester Stallone) returns to the world of his brother and tries to solve the riddle of his untimely death. Jack is a throwback in all respects – “the Vegas man with the Vegas tan” – in a world where organised decadence has launched itself into cyberspace.

Stallone can be an admirable actor, but this role is terribly insubstantial. Director Stephen Kay and writer David McKenna never figure out how, on balance, they want to present Jack – as a hero on a righteous, revenge mission or an obsessed anti-hero on the brink of madness.

This vacillation has odd and debilitating effects on how key events and aspects of Jack’s character are portrayed. The film is extremely squeamish about showing Jack actually killing anybody. Also – since the story depends on the opposition between Jack’s avuncular decency and the rabid licentiousness of the world around him – it is forced to make him a sexless, puritanical bore.

Critics tend to complain too much these days about films looking like rock videos or slick television ads – as if this sort of cannibalism of mass media styles has not gone on throughout cinema history. However, Get Carter‘s non-stop barrage of meaningless affectations – including stutter edits, overexposed flashes and a thousand dreamy fades – makes The Replacement Killers (1998) look like a measured masterpiece.

The closest thing to an overall strategy in this movie is its deliberate mélange of periods and places – America and Britain, Las Vegas and Seattle, the Rat Pack look of Carter’s past and the corporate seediness of the present. The intriguing music collage by Jellybean Benitez and Tyler Bates adds a further layer of cool self-consciousness, with its sampling of vocal and musical quotes from old crime movies.

Alas, this is not a film which can survive on style alone. It seems to take most of the plot for Jack to find an answer the question: “What was my brother into?” There are endless, supposedly moody scenes in pouring rain. Mickey Rourke’s idea of tough-guy acting is to stop sharply at the end of each sentence before spitting out the name “Jack”.

The hero’s hard-boiled wisdom is summed up in an immortal line: “We can’t change our history but up ahead it’s all new”.

In the tradition of the Cape Fear (1991) and Shaft (2000) remakes, the original Get Carter star, Michael Caine, has a small part. Rather being than the usual throwaway, nudge-wink gag, Caine’s role is in fact crucial – and also one of the more satisfying elements of an otherwise pretty dire movie.

© Adrian Martin February 2001

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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