Carlito's Way: Rise to Power Review

The GoodFellas-esque voice-over which takes us though the opening sequences of Carlito’s Way: Rise to Power is just one of a number of nods towards Martin Scorsese’s mob classic. At the very least they do contribute a certain (albeit second-hand) slickness and fortunately so. For any interest provoked by this being a prequel to Brian DePalma’s 1993 original is likely to diminish very quickly. Despite coming from an Edwin Torres novel, much the like the first Carlito’s Way, Rise to Power never feels tuned into DePalma’s version, but rather offers us warmed-up gangster clichés in they vain hope that this will be enough.

In fact, all it does is bring to mind a TV movie appropriation. The melodramatics are firmly in place, as are the schematics, during which time the filmmakers allow us a glimpse into Carlito’s early years. As the titles, the intent is to follow his rise, yet oddly there’s little development beyond the film’s initial stages. Certainly, we get the rudimentary romance and equally expected sour moments, but Carlito himself seems to do very little. Of course, he’s at the centre of the narrative, yet it’s the characters that surround him who often prove to be the more intriguing and who undergo the changes.

As such we’re left with a Carlito who, as played by Jay Hernandez, bears little resemblance to the Al Pacino model. He may come with same beard, but otherwise connections are tenuous; Hernandez simply doesn’t carry the weight of his predecessor, though in part this is also due to the flimsiness of the screenplay. More interesting are those who occupy the lower rungs of the cast list, such as Luis Guzman (who, of course, appeared in the original Carlito’s Way) and Burt Young. And yet even here we are not finding actors on the top of their game: Guzman is clearly on auto-pilot but still summoning up enough actorly tics to successfully chew the scenery, whilst Young’s mob boss has none of the depth of character which he displayed in his tiny guest appearance in The Sopranos, a role which probably amounted to roughly equal screen time. Meanwhile, the middle reaches of the cast list are “distinguished” by the non-descript playing, and perhaps stunt casting, of the likes of Sean “P. Diddy” Combs and Mario Van Peebles.

The use of the latter is particularly noteworthy as it demonstrates just how much Rise to Power fudges the issues. Given the 1970s setting, the casting of Van Peebles should at the very least allow for some interplay with the blaxploitation genre and his father’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. Yet this aspect simply isn’t mined, and the same goes for the decade as a whole; we get a Delfonics song on the soundtrack, a mention of black pride and that’s it. Indeed, Rise to Power isn’t another Dead Presidents or even along similar lines. It’s as though the whole social history of the seventies is utterly unimportant to the filmmakers until of course they wish to utilise its fashions and hairstyles.

Yet Rise to Power, during its opening voice-over, declares itself to be “the story of East Harlem”, a claim which can’t help but damage the film when it is in fact nothing of the sort. Just as the UK has its post-Lock, Stock… collection of tired old gangster movies, so too the US has its glut of Scarface-influenced/hip hop-inflected efforts to contend. Admittedly, Rise to Power is no doubt preferable to any number of Ice-T collaborations with trash auteur Albert Pyun, but it still occupies the same territory and amounts to the same thing: a bunch of sorry actors given appalling dialogue which can only make them seem like petulant little boys spouting clichés.

The Disc

A straight-to-DVD release from Universal, Rise to Power’s Region 2 offering is serviceable if not too impressive. The presentation allows for an anamorphically enhanced ratio of 1.85:1 and a spotless print, but it also appears to be suffering from too high a contrast. Colours often jar off each other and there are noticeable instances of edge enhancement and haloing. As for the soundtrack, the film follows the pattern of Universal’s other recent DVD debutant, American Pie Presents Band Camp, and goes for a DD5.1 as well as optional DTS. In both cases, the sound is little short of excellent, though it must be said that any differences between the two are negligible at best and that those without DTS capabilities are hardly missing out.

The extras, however, are generally poor and add up to very little. Perhaps most notable are the five deleted scenes. Though not of the best visual quality (they come timecoded and appear overly soft), it’s interesting to note a jokier, more irreverent tone to these scenes which may have seen Rise to Power head off in a different, less travelled path. Also present, and in a vaguely similar vein, is a lengthy gag reel, though of course this piece is mostly self-explanatory.

Elsewhere the disc also finds room for a quartet of featurettes, each of which never once rises above the EPK standard. As the titles suggest – ‘Carlito’s Brothers in Crime’, ‘Set Tour’, etc. – each covers a different aspect of the film or its production utilising the talking heads and clips method. Rounding off the package we also have a trio of trailers: one for the film itself, one for the 1993 original and one for The Skeleton Key.

All extras, were applicable, come with optional subtitles in the following languages: English, Dutch, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish.

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