If Judge Dennis Prince knew where he'd be headed with this direct-to-video yawner, he'd have gone the opposite way, quick.
"I'm Carlito Brigante. You ever heard of me? Then you know I ain't no f**king dry cleaner. Now, you can leave like you came in. Or you can go in the trunk of my car. All up to you. Comprende?"
If you think you're getting a prequel or at least some sort of sideways spin-off of the 1993 Al Pacino outing, think again. Carlito's Way: Rise to Power has scant little to do with the Brian DePalma picture except that both were leveraged from the novels of Edwin Torres and both were produced by fellows named Bregman and both have a character named Carlito. Other than that, well, your guess to the connection is as good as anyone else's. I'd guess, however, that you won't last long with this aimless vehicle that's boarded with almost every Scarface-influenced cliché possible, plus a bit of Goodfellas thrown in as a sign of desperation.
Carlito Brigante (Jay Hernadez, Hostel) forms a bond with two other criminals, Earl (Mario Van Peebles, Gang of Roses) and Rocco (Michael Kelly, Dawn of the Dead (2004)), while doing time. Upon their release, the three set up a heroin distribution operation in New York after Rocco intermediates with the New York Italian mafia and Carlito negotiates a territory with area kingpin "Hollywood Nicky" (Sean "P. Diddy" Combs). When Earl's irascible younger brother, Reggie (Mtume Gant, Bringing Out the Dead) dares to defy the delicate détente between Carlito and the Italian Mafia, the peace is about to be shattered. Now, Carlito, Rocco, and Earl have to deal with Reggie, lest they find themselves at the wrong end of the Mafia's gun barrels.
It sounds good on paper but never delivers. The problem with Carlito's Way: Rise to Power isn't that it's poorly executed but, rather, that there's nothing for anyone to do thanks to a script that seems as if it was mercilessly "stepped on" to stretch to 94 minutes, much like street narcotics are diluted to improve profits over original investment. That's what this direct-to-video misfire seems to be all about: profits and a thinly veiled attempt to either confuse or downright con home-video consumers. It's no accident that this HD DVD edition is being released on the same street date as the HD DVD for the Brian DePalma original—clearly Universal was hopeful buyers would be duped into thinking they're getting more of the same good stuff; they're not.
The saddest news to report here is that there's competency in the on-screen talent but nowhere near enough content or context for any in front of the camera to make an impact. Essentially, this plays out like an after-hours tele-drama—with on-screen violence, drugs, and plenty of f-bombs—but no long-lasting purpose or memorable moments. Instead, it comes off like a film-school project that's more concerned with camera setups and lighting schemes than story. Had this been condensed into a more suitable 58 minutes, there might have been a uptick in entertainment value. As it stands, this comes off as 94 arduous minutes of waiting and waiting for something to happen; nothing does. Sadly, the skills of Hernandez, Van Peebles, Guzmán, and others are all for naught, except to serve as a quick cash grab by the producers running the show.
As for the HD DVD itself, this new transfer, mastered with a 1080p / VC-1 encode, looks just all right, frequently afflicted with a graininess that seems intentional during the introductory black-and-white sequences but doesn't subside after color bleeds in. From there, the image quality wavers from "good" to just "a bit better than good" but never "great." The same can be said for the audio track here, the best offering being a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix that does good in delivering full-bodied gunshot effects but nothing else of notable value. Even the extras are tepid, with three featurettes here to entice by their number but not with content that's worth seeing (notice a trend to this overall package?). There are some deleted scenes on hand and, lastly, you can spend a bit of time with Van Peebles during a tour of the set but, sadly, we never get to any place of real interest—like the commissary.
Certainly there's enough technical skill and artistic craft on hand to have made this a more worthwhile endeavor but, in the end, this seems like a blatant cash in that is likely being set on store shelves to rake in some quick cash before folks find out it's not the "dope" they might be hoping for.
Guilty, as charged.
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