Carlito's Way [1993]

Genre: Crime, Drama
The success of Brian De Palma's Carlito's Way ensures that the straight-to-DVD release of Carlito's Way: Rise to Power will attract an eager audience among fans of urban gangland melodramas. A stellar cast provides adequate compensation as this tame, relatively bloodless prequel trots out every cliché in the book, qualifying as the 21st-century equivalent of a Warner Bros. gangster programmer from the 1930s. The well-chosen cast of new and familiar faces is caught up in a standard plot of territorial tension in Harlem between the blacks led by Hollywood Nicky (Sean Combs, adding a touch of blingy humor), the old-school Mafia led by Artie Sr. (Burt Young), and the caught-in-the-middle Puerto Ricans who are gaining control as Carlito (Jay Hernandez, in the role Al Pacino originated) and his cross-cultural gang rises to power after his recent release from prison with cellmates and partners-in-crime Earl (Mario Van Peebles) and Rocco (Michael Kelly). They're a tight trio in a climate of mistrust and deception, and Earl's hot-headed brother (Mtume Grant) sets off a series of events that force Carlito to invent a clever alliance that raises the body count while ensuring his long-term status as a dude-you-don't-mess-with. It's fun, for what it's worth (and fans of De Palma's film will enjoy connecting events from one film to the other), but there's not a shred of originality in script or direction by Michael Scott Bregman, whose father Martin produced Carlito's Way. Still, there's something to be said for a gang picture that never promises more than it can deliver. On those terms, and with enough violence and strip-joint nudity to satisfy its generic prerequisites, Rise to Power is definitely worth a look. --Jeff Shannon

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