Thursday, March 29, 2007

Films of Michael Caine #74: Get Carter (2000)

Cast: Sylvester Stallone (Jack Carter), Miranda Richardson (Gloria), Rachael Leigh Cook (Doreen), Rhona Mitra (Geraldine), Johnny Strong (Eddie), John C McGinley (Con McCarty), Alan Cumming (Jeremy Kinnear), Michael Caine (Cliff Brumby), John Cassini (Thorpey), Mickey Rourke (Cyrus Paice), Mark Boone Jr (Jim Davis), Garwin Sanford (Les Fletcher).

Crew: Stephen Kay (director), Mark Canton, Elie Samaha and Neil Canton (producers), David McKenna (writer), Tyler Bates (music), Mauro Fiore (cinematography), Jerry Greenberg (editor), Charles J H Wood (production designer).

Synopsis: Jack Carter is a bone-breaker for Las Vegas mobster Les Fletcher. Jack goes home to Seattle for his brother Richie’s funeral, against Fletcher’s orders. Carter decides to investigate Richie’s death in a drunk driving accident. Richie worked at a bar owned by Cliff Brumby. Learning Richie had a mistress called Geraldine, Jack traces her to an old enemy, Cyrus Paice, who runs porn websites. Paice leads Carter to an internet millionaire, Jeremy Kinnear. Kinnear denies knowing about Richie’s death. Brumby tries to get Jack to leave town.

Jack sees a security tape from Brumby’s bar that shows Geraldine giving Richie a computer disc. Carter locates the disc, which shows Richie’s teenage daughter Doreen being drugged and used in a sex show with Geraldine and one of Brumby’s men, Eddie. Paice kills Geraldine with a heroin overdose. Jack murders Eddie and Paice as revenge. He threatens to kill Kinnear, who was involved with Paice. Kinnear says Paice was working for someone else. As Jack prepares to leave Seattle, he find Brumby trying to retrieve the computer disc. Carter murders Brumby…


By the late 1990s Mike Hodges’ film Get Carter (1971) was recognised as a modern classic. An American company acquired the rights to the original source material, Ted Lewis’s novel Jack’s Return Home, and commissioned a new version as a vehicle for ageing action star Sylvester Stallone. David McKenna wrote the adaptation, transferring events from Newcastle to Seattle in America.

Stephen Kay was brought on as director, having only helmed two small independent movies. The new version of Get Carter was a step up to the big time with a $40 million budget and an international star as the lead. ‘I was completely daunted by the notion of remaking a movie I really dug,’ Kay says on the film’s DVD commentary track. He demanded Caine’s involvement. ‘I don’t think you make this movie if you don’t have Michael Caine in it. When he said he would do it, there was no way they were going to drag me out of this movie. It was great to have him, and he’s just a champ.’

But Caine took some convincing when first approached, as he told the Daily Telegraph early in 2000. ‘The producer called and said, “It’ll be fun.” My agent said, “Michael’s not in it for the fun, he’s in it for money. Make an offer.” If someone says to me, “Do it for fun,” I always say, “No, give me the money. I’ll have fun afterwards.”’

The production began in October 1999 with filming in Vancouver and location work in Seattle and Las Vegas. Caine told an interviewer the shoot had been good fun. But preview audiences disliked the ending and Caine was called back for re-shoots. ‘When I was Carter in the first film, I killed the character I play in the remake,’ Caine told the Evening Standard in 2001. ‘Sly Stallone didn’t kill me and I went round telling journalists he would be a gentler Carter than I was. A few months later I got called back for a day’s shooting. I turned up and Sly blew my brains out.’

In August 2000 Kay predicted the remake would not be well received in Britain. ‘We’re going to get crushed in London,’ he told Entertainment Weekly. ‘It doesn’t matter what we bring – they’re going to kill us. It’s tantamount to a British filmmaker remaking Martin Scorcese’s Mean Streets (1973).’ Released in the US during October 2000 with an R rating, the picture was derided by critics. It grossed less than $15 million.

In Britain Hodges told Empire nobody had contacted him about the remake. ‘I gather Carter’s got a goatee beard and it’s a redemptive film and at the end of it he survives,’ the director said. ‘So it’s patently a completely different film. It seems to me like they’ve just kept the title.’ The remake never reached British cinemas. It had to wait two years before being released directly on video and DVD in the UK, rated 15.

In 2001 Caine told Empire he had never seen the remake. ‘I thought maybe it would work. Sly’s a friend of mine, which is why I did it. I didn’t know anything about the movie. I mean, I take responsibility for the ones where my name’s over the title. Otherwise…’

A year later, Caine’s memories of the film had soured further. ‘The moment I arrived on set, I didn’t like it,’ he told an interviewer for the Australian edition of Empire. ‘I only worked for two days but they weren’t two of the happiest days of my life. I just felt, what the hell am I doing here?’

Reviews: ‘A useless remake of the Mike Hodges’ 1971 British gangland cult classic … this latest Sylvester Stallone “comeback” picture lacks excitement, credibility, suspense, character insight or anything else that might conceivable engage viewers.’ – Variety
‘In short, it isn’t a patch on Mike Hodges’ version; however, approached as a work in its own right, it’s not as bad as many would have you believe.’ – Empire

Verdict: Even if you’ve never seen the 1971 original, this film is unlikely to satisfy. A triumph of style over substance, Get Carter (2000) tries to create a hybrid of violent action and moody melodrama. Instead the film creates a big old mess, wasting a strong supporting case and nearly two hours in the life of anybody who watches it. The new version abandons the original’s powerful nihilism for a half-baked tale of redemption and forgiveness. Stallone never shows a fraction of his predecessor’s depth or implacability. Caine only appears in four scenes. If you want a good Stallone movie, look elsewhere. If you want to watch an updated Get Carter, try The Limey (1999) – it’s a lot better than this tripe.

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