- The Washington Times - Friday, October 6, 2000

''Get Carter" sinks under the weight of multiple defects, not the least of which is a terminally murky, eye-hostile lighting scheme.

A good deal of "Bait" was filmed using similar bat-cave illumination, so Warner Bros. may find it convenient to double-bill the pictures. How clever: losers that can be packaged as look-alikes.

A remake, "Get Carter" borrows the title and pretext of a hard-boiled, indeed distinctively vicious British crime thriller of 1970. It also borrows the star of that film, Michael Caine, for a minor role.

An astute update might have benefited from good timing. Mr. Caine remains a vigorous asset to the medium, not to mention a reigning Academy Award winner. In addition, the original "Get Carter" was the first feature directed by Mike Hodges, now a top rediscovery of 2000 as the director of the stylish sleeper "Croupier."

To its misfortune, "Get Carter" seems even more superfluous than "Playback," the Mel Gibson vehicle that demonstrated the pointlessness of updating the weirdly distinctive Lee Marvin-John Boorman thriller "Point Blank."

While recruiting Mr. Caine, Mickey Rourke and Alan Cuming as three shades of Mr. Bigs, the maladroit new "Get Carter" entrusts the title role to Sylvester Stallone.

A Las Vegas enforcer, Jack Carter is employed by a fuming loan shark of some magnitude, repeatedly heard in phone conversations that threaten dire consequences if Carter doesn't return to duty double-quick.

He has gone AWOL to attend the funeral of a recently deceased younger brother in Seattle. Upon arrival, Carter has reason to suspect that foul play doomed his brother to an early grave. The pilgrimage doesn't impress a widowed sister-in-law, Gloria, played by Miranda Richardson, but Carter does soften up his niece, Doreen, played by Rachael Leigh Cook. In fact, she turns out to be overdue for a protective presence. Not that her desperation should excuse Mr. Stallone's worst interlude of emoting.

He upstages Miss Cook's best scene, a shameful confession that obviously would play better if the leading man weren't blubbering and tearing up to distraction while overdoing a heartfelt response.

There's also a trace element of Rocky Balboa in Jack Carter: The lovable pugilist worked for a Philadelphia loan shark. Needless to say, Rocky wouldn't think of roughing up deadbeats as handily as the new Carter and a sidekick played by John C. McGinley (in excellent abusive-maniacal form) pretend to do in an early sequence. The resumes do kind of overlap, though.

The "Bait" similarities extend from a sleekly abstract credit sequence to stupefying car chases. Unless my tortured eyes deceived me, "Get Carter" actually thought it cool to depict a Christmas-tree lot getting mowed down by runaway sedans.

This sort of cinematic driving-under-the-influence offense might not be necessary if the plot made adequate sense and justified ominous apprehension through character delineation.

Under the prevailing slapdash circumstances, the filmmakers look indecisive. All the Mr. Bigs get trotted out for showdowns with Carter, making it impossible to establish a satisfying criminal pecking order.

That's one of several enhancements beyond the aptitude of "Carter," which prefers to blur and mangle stuff. To be fair, there's one inspiration in the blurry vein, a silhouette composition after Mickey Rourke has rebuffed one of the hero's interrogations. (It's always difficult to believe Mr. Stallone would scare anyone.)

Clutching his head while suffering an apparent headache, the star sums up the entire movie in a single image.

Mr. Stallone plays most of the film in an unflattering mustache and goatee. They are abandoned at the fade-out, suggesting that he was getting a head start on his next movie, a car-racing spectacle titled "Driven," previewed on the "Get Carter" print. Evidently, he will be cleanshaven in "Driven."

An obvious stroke of genius: One concludes that "Get Carter" actually was intended as a trailer for "Driven," which is bound to look more promising at 90 seconds than the feature does at 100 minutes.

1/2 out of four stars

TITLE: "Get Carter"

RATING: R (Frequent profanity, occasional graphic violence and lurid sexual elements, including video fragments of a teen-age girl lured into an orgy; allusions to drug addiction and a lethal heroin overdose)

CREDITS: Directed by Stephen Kay

RUNNING TIME: About 100 minutes

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