Honestly, is adding a cinematic volume onto a series when one film seemed to have addressed it is beyond me. You’ve got Carlito’s Way, a film whose main character (played by Al Pacino) died at the end, yet in Carlito’s Way – Rise to Power, we’re getting a prequel? I think that all that could have been answered was done so in the Pacino film, but we’re seeing a film about how Carlito, pardon the word choice, has “rose to power”? What’s the point? Needless to say, I’m still popping the hood and looking what’s underneath.
So Rise to Power was written by Edwin Torres, who also wrote the novel about Carlito’s later years. Michael Bregman, son of Martin, who’s produced several Pacino movies through the years, adapted the novel and directed this straight to video project. Carlito is now played by Jay Hernandez (Hostel), and his true beginnings are in jail with the Italian Rocco (Michael Kelly, Unbreakable) and the African American Earl (Mario Van Peebles, Baadasss!!!!). When they get out, their friendship forms into a business partnership of heroin trafficking. They do pretty well, in fact Earl manages to leave the business and move to the Caribbean, however he asks Carlito to look after his younger brother, who is long on bluster and short on any real business or personal sense, causing friction among the bigger crime bosses like Hollywood Nicky (Puff Daddy himself, Sean Combs), and Artie (Burt Young, Rocky).
The film’s main focus is on the friendship between Earl, Carlito, and Rocco, and that friendship (and the racial tensions between the Italians, Puerto Ricans and Blacks) is shown through the film, though the flaw in this is that the tensions aren’t played up as effectively as they should, and past that, the story just winds up being a derivative concept surrounding a kid who should know better and is causing problems, and you almost root for his demise.
You’ve got a choice of Dolby 5.1 surround tracks in either TrueHD or the ole’ Dolby Digital-Plus formats. Unfortunately, neither one really does anything special. Dialogue does stay in the center channel, there is some low end fidelity during gunplay, but very little surround activity.
1.85:1 widescreen, using the VC-1 codec. To be fair, there is a deliberate attempt to make the film look gritty and devoid of a lot of detail, and locations were shot to maintain the time period and were devoid of any vibrant color palette, so there’s a lot of tighter shots, but nothing comes across in terms of clarity, and the film looks gritty, but there’s not a lot here to make the jump from SD to HD.
There’s not really much here. A standard, ten minute EPK on the film is the first thing you’ll see, with interviews from the cast and crew as they share their thoughts on the overall production. Following that is an eight minute look at how the production design team made 2004 New York look like it did several decades before, and a separate five minute piece has the cast discussing their characters. Van Peebles provides a tour of the set that last about three minutes, and five deleted scenes that total about seven minutes don’t really add anything to the overall production. The film’s trailer rounds everything out.
Carlito’s Way – Rise To Power pretty much seals the deal on how Carlito Brigante looks to movie audiences, but after watching the prequel to what was an accomplished piece of filmmaking, it’s clear that Carlito deserved a little bit more than what was given here. I wasn’t wowed by the performances, the story is pretty poor, and I was left with a bad taste in my mouth. Or maybe that’s the two liters of Vanilla Coke I just drank.