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Brian De Palma, who possibly came to fame for his other gangster flick, Scarface (also starring Al Pacino), proved to audiences that he could once again lure them into a darkly tinged crime setting when he helmed the adaptation of Carlito’s Way. It was, for one reason or another, met with somewhat lacklustre box office results. It wasn’t even looked on that favourably by any award ceremonies, which is too bad because it is to this day one of De Palma’s best works. Frankly, Carlito’s Way was one of the best overlooked films to come out of the early nineties, period. This review, however, is not for that film, but its direct-to-video prequel, Rise to Power. Can it do the original justice? Read on to find out.

Carlito's Way: Rise to Power
In this prequel, which bares some similarities to the second chapter of The Godfather trilogy, we see how the famed Carlito Brigante comes to be the person we know him to be. Outside of that one similarity, Rise to Power has absolutely nothing in common with that aforementioned classic, and it would be an insult to even draw comparisons, so I apologise to any Godfather fans I might have offended.

The fact of the matter is this: Rise to Power is not a good film, and it is frankly an insult to the masterful original. It’s really no wonder this film wound up being sent straight to video, with its substandard plotting, acting and production values. But what really drives the nail deep into the coffin is the lousy and, perhaps even shameful way in which the material has been dealt with.

In the original, casting was everything. Here, the director and producers have cast dreary, dull and often persistently bad actors for these roles. Nobody should expect Jay Hernandez to do the role of Carlito as much justice as Pacino did, but in my opinion he flat-out dirties it. There are times that I literally winced with some his dialogue delivery, and it doesn’t help that his supporting actors are even worse. One unexpected gem however, came in the shape of a certain Sean 'P. Diddy' Combs. Aside from him, the whole cast pretty much stinks up the entire film.

This so called prequel is also not a very good one either. It fails to answer some of the questions regarding the original, and perhaps most of all, it fails to tell us why Carlito would wind up in jail. I guess you could piece that together anyway, but I still would have thought it might deal with that issue at the end. Alas, nothing came out of it at all, which makes this film seem less like a prequel and more like some random Carlito adventure.

Should you see Rise to Power? No, I would say that you really do not need to. If you are a fan of the original, then I would especially recommend you avoid it. In fact, I cannot think of any one reason why this film was even made. It is badly written, badly directed and, in more than one way, it tarnishes the original. The best analogy I can muster is that this prequel is very much akin to the Star Wars prequels, and it does for the original exactly what they did for that franchise – it takes away much of the mystery and excitement with sub par filmmaking and lame direction. Avoid it like the plague.

Carlito's Way: Rise to Power
Though a very dark transfer, besmirched with all the usual signs of low-budget filmmaking, Rise to Power looks solid for the most part. Onscreen noise is actually quite toned down, which is surprising considering the dank and almost colourless nature of the film. Images are sharp and modestly detailed, and there is a very polished look about the transfer. In all, this is a rather pretty looking image – shame about the actual film though.

Though I cannot think of a film least deserving of it, Carlito’s Way: The Rise to Power comes bundled with both a Dolby Digital and DTS soundtrack option. Both are reasonably well balanced, and both are pretty sharp when it comes to dialogue and surround sound effects. Bass frequencies are mostly strong, though not entirely as robust or tight as they ought to be. Having said that, the music tends to blast though the speakers (particularly the sub) with a rather deafening, powerful force.

Up first on this single-disc release is the deleted scenes. The feature is compiled into one six minute reel, and all of the footage is badly presented and unfinished. You’d think they would have polished it up a bit, but apparently they either could not afford to, or could not be bothered to. Next, there is an almost depressing six minute gag reel, followed by a five minute generic making of featurette called ‘Got Your Back: Carlito’s Brothers in Crime’.

‘Brining the Hood to Life’ is a seven minute featurette about how the crew brought the locales around New York to realization, while the ‘Making Of Documentary’ adds nothing new in the way of behind the scenes content. The ‘Set Tour With Earl’ also proves to be lacking any real insight into the production, and the rest of the extras, which consists of a few trailers, isn’t likely to attract many viewings either. In all, this is a highly disappoint collection of special features.

Carlito's Way: Rise to Power
This prequel to the classic Carlito’s Way is a mammoth disappointment and a complete waste of time, money and energy. Why exactly this film ever got the green light is beyond me, and I would strictly advise all those who loved the Al Pacino original to steer clear of this mess. The DVD produces some similar concerns. While the video is hands down the disc’s greatest asset, and the audio isn’t all that bad, the extras are horridly unoriginal and pointless. Rent it if you absolutely must see it, but be aware that this is no masterpiece, nor even a good film. You have been warned.