We take a look at one of Sylvester Stallone most underrated movies, the remake of Get Carter, co-starring Michael Caine and Mickey Rourke.
Copland was supposed to be Sylvester Stallone’s comeback movie. Despite earning decent box office and generating Sly’s best reviews in decades, it seemed to be the final nail in his coffin as a leading man, and I don’t understand why. Before Copland, Stallone was headlining huge action movies like Daylight and Judge Dredd, and while they underperformed domestically and overseas, they were still big. One would think that Stallone would have been given an old-school action film to revive his career, but all of a sudden, he was slotted into cheap movies, such as the slasher thriller D-TOX, which is also called Eye See You. That movie was so bad that it went direct-to-video, which pretty much meant the end of Stallone’s career for half a dozen years until he managed a major comeback with Rocky Balboa. It would get pretty dire for Sly, but Warner Bros did produce two movies they gave theatrical release to in 2000 and 2001. Both movies would be huge flops, with Driven widely considered one of Stallone’s worst films. But Get Carter, which came out before Driven, is a bit underrated, as we dig into in this episode of Sylvester Stallone Revisited.
It’s a remake of the classic Michael Caine gangster movie of the same name. We should stop right there because even if Get Carter, at the time, was mostly unknown in North America, in the UK, the film was considered a stone-cold classic. Thus, the knives were out for this one before it ever hit theaters, and critics, it must be said, were seemingly looking to take Sly down a few more notches. Doing a remake was precisely the wrong thing for his career at the time, but the movie isn’t half bad.
It’s interesting watching Get Carter in the wake of Stallone’s success on Tulsa King, where he plays a gangster because in that show, he sports the same look he does here in Get Carter. In it, he plays a mob enforcer in trouble with his boss (Tom Sizemore in a cameo) because he’s been seeing his mistress, Audrey (Gretchen Moll), behind his back. While he should be lying low, when he discovers that his brother has died in a car accident, he returns to his old Seattle stomping grounds and discovers that his brother was murdered. It turns out that his brother’s daughter, Doreen, played by Rachel Leigh Cook, was drugged and raped and used against her will in a porn flick and that when the brother tried to expose them, he was killed. Sly’s Carter unleashes a world of hurt on the bad guys, and while the film is more of a serious, noir-style drama than an action flick, as a Sly fan back in 2000, I remember thinking it was a pretty cool movie.
Nowadays, Get Carter holds up reasonably well as a time capsule, with it very evocative of late-nineties crime movies that were hip in the wake of Reservoir Dogs. While this isn’t Tarantino, it fits in nicely alongside other examples of the genre, like Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead, Suicide Kings, and The Way of the Gun. Director Stephen Kay, who later became a mainstay of Taylor Sheridan shows, directs with a lot of style – too much perhaps, as you can tell this is someone’s first big studio movie, and they’re showing off a bit. While people mocked that aspect of the film in 2000, now it’s endearing, making the movie feel like a fun retro-thriller, with the soundtrack incredibly evocative of the era, with songs by Moby and Paul Oakenfold. It was composer Tyler Bates’s first big film, and he did a terrific job on the score, riffing on the original Get Carter’s theme song by Roy Budd.
Another strong thing about Get Carter is the cast, with Miranda Richardson, Alan Cummings, and Rachel Leigh Cook all pretty prestigious at the time. At the same time, co-star Rhona Mitra soon became an object of lust for many guys going through their formative years when this came out.
What’s unique about Get Carter are the two actors they got to play the antagonists. First, there’s the original Carter himself, Michael Caine, who they were able to entice to reteam with Stallone for the first time since Victory. This was a big coup, as Caine being involved gave the film some legitimacy, and he had just won an Oscar for the Cider House Rules and was in the middle of a big comeback. The other fantastic piece of casting was Mickey Rourke. At the time, Rourke’s career was in the gutter, with him being mocked as box office poison and known more for being tabloid fodder than an actor. Stallone had a soft spot for Rourke, who would later show up in the first Expendables movie, and the two have a great fight scene where, for a good while, Rourke beats the absolute piss out of Sly before the Italian Stallion turns the tables.
All that said, it can’t be denied that Get Carter is ultimately an unnecessary film, with the 1971 Get Carter still a great flick. The movie also suffers from a ludicrously reshot ending where Sly, minus his goatee, comforts Leigh Cook’s character, ending the film on an up note contrary to the rest of the movie. Nevertheless, this is pretty decent stuff, although audiences at the time weren’t impressed with it being saddled with a deadly D+ cinemascore rating. It only made $14 million domestically and was barely released in Europe, meaning Sly’s power as a foreign draw was all but gone. It did irreparable harm to his status as a leading man. Still, he wasn’t alone in this regard, with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal all suffering significant downturns in their popularity, with JCVD and Seagal consigned to the DTV market for good. Only Sly and Arnold could fight back to the big screen, but that’s a story for another time!