Unless you're a devotee of crime fiction, Michael Caine movies or obscure British cinema, you probably missed the original "Get Carter" (1971). Made from a Ted Lewis novel, that dark, violent film followed an amoral Brit criminal on a vengeful quest awash in blood and gunfire. Along with a few other existentialist, minimalist crime stories -- notably the original "Point Blank" (1967) -- it was the next step for screen nihilism after the film noir of the 1940s and '50s and the "angry young man" films of the early '60s.
Those movies set the tone for the action epics that came later, a category of film upon which Sylvester Stallone has built a considerable career. Witness "Cobra," "Demolition Man" and "First Blood." So here comes Stallone, paying tribute to his roots by updating "Get Carter" and even carving a spot in the remake for the original's star, Caine. That actor -- whose Cliff Brumby is the only character worth watching in this boring movie -- should be insulted.
Jack Carter (Stallone) arrives in Seattle from Las Vegas, where he has been breaking bones for a loan shark and ignoring his family. Upon hearing of the suspicious death of his brother in a drunk-driving mishap, he wades into his sibling's past, looking to settle scores.
Caine's Brumby runs the bar in which the brother worked; in the same neighborhood dwells Cyrus Paice (Mickey Rourke), a pimp who sometimes services Jeremy Kinnear (Alan Cumming), a weird computer millionaire. Miranda Richardson plays Gloria, the brother's widow; Rachael Leigh Cook is his daughter and Rhona Mitra plays his sometime mistress, Geraldine.
Stallone/Carter fits into this milieu like a trout on a bicycle, wearing sleek suits and a nasty sneer while indulging a penchant for lines line "You don't want to know me."
Sure, it's vintage tough-guy stuff. But the screenplay, by David McKenna (American History X), doesn't give Carter enough to do. For 30 minutes or so, we watch Stallone flex his muscles, stand in the rain, engage in pointless violence and make unfulfilled threats. Yawn.
Director Stephen Kay (his debut was the little-seen "The Last Time I Committed Suicide," about beat hero Neal Cassady) attempts to fill this action void with quick-cut montages and jumps that suggest movement more than they convey meaning. Two car chases employ this y'all-ain't-gonna-bul-eeve-this style of editing; one works, the other doesn't.
A duke-out between Stallone and Rourke (yes, he's still alive, and he's been pumping iron) makes little sense, and a rooftop confessional Carter shares with his niece spoils any true connection with the original film. Other than sucking in his tummy so hard that he looks likely to explode, Stallone doesn't do anything to impress.
Stallone turned 54 this year, and he looks terrifically fit. If only his performances were in such good shape.