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From the producer of Scarface and Carlito's Way comes the action thriller Carlito's Way: Rise to Power. Jay Hernandez (Friday Night Lights), Mario Van Peebles (Ali), Luis Guzman (Carlito's Way) and Sean Combs (Monster's Ball) star in the gripping tale of the early years of gangster legend Carlito Brigante. Seduced by the power of the brutal New York underworld, he enters a deadly circle of greed and retribution. Assisted by his two brothers in crime, Carlito is on the fast track to becoming Spanish Harlem's ultimate kingpin. He quickly learns, however, that the only way to survive at the top is through loyalty to his friends and respect for the rules of the street.
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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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