Every time Hollywood decides to remake a treasured classic, you have to ask yourself why. The original “Get Carter” from 1971 may only be a cult film in the U.S., but in England it’s the Brits’ equivalent of “Taxi Driver”. The new version is actually the third adaptation of Ted Lewis’ novel “Jack’s Return Home”, counting the 1972 blaxploitation version, George Armitage’s “Hit Man”.
The new edition is the second feature feature for director Stephen Kay (“The Last Time I Committed Suicide”), but the original was the first for Mike Hodges, who most recently hit big with “Croupier”. Pitch black and nihilistic, that film made star Michæl Caine an even bigger icon than he already was.
Caine, who has a supporting part in the new version, has publicly given his blessing to the remake. Then again, he missed the Academy Awards ceremony where he won his first Oscar because he was too busy filming “Jaws: The Revenge”. The producers were so skittish that no press or media screenings were held. Now, is it really that bad?
Basically, there are four major deviations from the original. The first is the location. Jack Carter (Sylvester Stallone) is a leg breaker for a Las Vegas casino. When his estranged brother Richie dies under suspicious circumstances, Jack heads home to Seattle for the first time in five years. Once there, he finds the need to reestablish connections with the only family he has left, Richie’s widow Gloria (Miranda Richardson) and young adult daughter Doreen (Rachæl Leigh Cook). His first goal though, is to tear through the town’s underworld looking for answers about his brother. Part of the search leads him in an internet porn business led by Carter’s sleazy old rival Cyrus Paice (Mickey Rourke) and funded by tech billionaire Jeremy Kinnear (Alan C*****g). The rest of his search leads him to some things he’d rather not know.
The second big deviation from 1971 is in the star. Caine was still in his mid to late-30’s at the time. Stallone is 54, and it shows. The camera crisply conveys every scar and wrinkle on Sly’s body. While Caine’s story was about a virile, angry guy out for nothing but revenge, Stallone’s version depicts a man looking back on his life. He’s on the back nine of middle age and wants to make things right. The older Carter thinks of where his life will go from this point. Caine’s Carter has no such burden; he’s only there for blood.
The other two big differences are a little more questionable. I understand there’s no point in attempting to match the intensity of the original. When Gordon Chan and Jet Li set out to redo Bruce Lee’s classic, “The Chinese Connection”, they knew they couldn’t, so they set out to make their own “Fist of Legend” more complex as it was tailored to Li’s strengths. “Get Carter” 2000 forms around the image of the older Stallone, but not all decisions made necessarily work for the best. If you don’t want to know what these final changes are, I’d skip to the next paragraph. Otherwise, how should I put this? One change is a different ending. I suppose it’s in keeping with the more reflective tone of the newer film, but the original’s was part of its punch. The last major change is more questionable, and it’s the whole character of Doreen. Rachæl Leigh Cook’s part is much bigger than the first film’s niece. This too plays into the newer tone. However, for those that have seen the Caine edition, well, let’s just say that her complicity in key events are not as voluntary as they were in the original. I would guess the filmmakers wanted to make her more likeable. The result instead is to make the new film much sleazier that it should have been.
Is the 2000 edition as good as the first one? Not even close. It’s not particularly bad, though, and there’s no real justification for not showing it in advance to the press. It’s solid enough, and has an extremely talented cast. It’s weird that between Richardson, C*****g, and Caine the movie maintains more than its expected share of British actors. Caine’s part, however central it’s supposed to be, seems kind of tacked on to deflect criticism. He basically has three scenes, with Stallone only and all interiors, and they could have all been shot in a day or two. I’m sure he got a few house payments for that weekend of work.
Director Kay and Stallone do a good job, but I still can’t fathom why anyone really wanted to produce this remake. Much of the original’s appeal was its tone and pacing, and both have been changed. The new approach suits Stallone to a point, but doesn’t completely distinguish the film enough to justify its existence. The star has the same problem as Schwarzenegger. The ’80’s action heroes need to rediscover their niche as age has taken its toll. Currently, Hollywood is hell-bent on turning Jet Li into the biggest star in the world, and the town seems to have little use for the beat-up guys drifting through their second half-centuries. Lucille Ball kept with the slapstick right through her last series in 1986 when she was 75. That sacrifice of her dignity left the audience more alarmed than amused. Paul Newman and Clint Eastwood learned to age in their careers gracefully (ok, most of the time), and Stallone it obviously trying to do the same. “Get Carter” is a nice try, but it needed a clearer sense of purpose. Better luck next time.