As far as straight-to-video movies go, this wouldn’t be considered that bad. That is if it was indeed a home video premiere which I don’t believe it is. “Carlito’s Way: Rise to Power” had every intention of being a theatrical release as it had a brief run on its way to straight-to-video purgatory.
This prequel focuses on Carlito Brigante (Jay Hernandez) in his street hood days in 1960s Harlem, showing his beginnings right through to his “rise to power” as the title suggests. In prison, Carlito meets two guys, Earl (Mario Van Peebles) and Rocco (Michael Kelly). What is so rare about this union is that all three guys are of completely different race, which is something that creates problems in their dealings with the Italian mob. Upon their release from the joint, they start their own drug business and make enough money to separate themselves from the rest of the population. Only with more responsibility and power come more headaches and complications as a young Carlito shows us why he became such a legend.
I am a huge fan of the first instalment; in fact to me it is Brian De Palma’s last great film, so naturally before even watching this I knew it was more out of curiosity than the prospect of thorough enjoyment. This film had all the makings of a solid straight-to-video movie, but unfortunately I feel that fate was totally unintentional which would then lose this film points.
If this was going to be a big theatrical film that wanted to tells Carlito’s story that was only referenced in the original, then they needed to do much better than this. For starters this film covers more subject matter than the original, yet the running time is much less. They skimmed over much of the material and it ended up playing out like a microwave anonymous crime film. The tone was also unlike the first film, as this one leans towards the hip, light-hearted, Elmore Leonard style of narrative which is fine for a film unrelated to such a dramatic predecessor.
All in all, “Carlito’s Way: Rise to Power” was entertaining to watch, with a decent performance by Hernandez who had such big shoes to fill. Lets face it he was never going to rock my world in this role, but he did bring his best to the table. There were some elements to this prequel that did impress me, but like I said if this was 100% unambiguously made for video shelves then it would have made more sense than simply being a theatrical failure which is totally justified.
Some of the cast members from the original make appearances as different characters. I guess in the end a substance lacking prequel to a film of such high calibre and respect is never going to be a real contender. Not a bad film for what it is though. Domenick Lombardozzi (“The Wire”) was in his element as son of mob boss Artie, Jr.