Carlito's Way: Rise to Power (2005) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

As you can undoubtedly determine, this is a prequel to Carlito's Way, a noted Brian DePalma film about a aging gangster who is released from prison. He intends in good faith to go straight, but ultimately finds that a tragically difficult goal to achieve. Al Pacino brought Carlito to life as a savvy guy with a sense of dignity and honor, a bad guy who could have been a good guy with just a slight change in the prevailing winds.

The storyline behind The Rise to Power is a bit of a disappointment to me, because it is not really the kind of prequel I anticipated. I expected to see a story that explained how Carlito ended up in the joint, and then how he made the decision to try to go straight when he got out. I guess I'll have to keep waiting for that story, because Rise to Power is not a direct prequel, but a distant flashback that can best be described as another story featuring the same character. It shows Carlito at the very beginning of his criminal career. So, in effect, we now have Part 1 and Part 3 of Carlito's story, but Part 2 is missing. There's nothing wrong with that at all, except that I have always felt Carlito's Way to be a fine film, and that feeling whetted my appetite for the story which came immediately before it.

Of course, the disappointment described above has everything to do with the film I wanted it to be, and nothing to do with the quality of the film it really is. In fact, I enjoyed Rise to Power, despite the fact that it is very, very similar to Goodfellas. In fact, some scenes seem too similar to the famous Scorsese saga, although this film puts a different ethnic spin on the story. Do you remember those "gimmicky cast" remakes that were so popular on Broadway a couple of decades ago, like the all-black version of The Odd Couple, or the all-tone-deaf-dwarfs version of Song of Norway? I might have imagined that second one. Either that or I mixed it up with a Bjork concert. Anyway, the fad seems to have passed because you rarely see that kind of gimmick today, except maybe for Oliver Stone's version of Alexander with an all Irish-accented cast. The Rise to Power is something like a remake of Goodfellas with a multi-ethnic cast instead of the original all-Italian version. Jay Hernandez plays the young Carlito, basically taking on the Ray Liotta role from Goodfellas, and narrating throughout. The story takes place in the sixties, when heroin was first coming to Harlem, and it portrays the partnership between three criminals who met in the joint: a black man, a Puerto Rican, and an Italian mobster. Given the ethnic boundary lines in Northern Manhattan, these men form the perfect combination to distribute smack across the entire territory.

I have to say that it all comes together pretty well. Director Michael Bregman is not very experienced, but he learned a few things from studying DePalma and Scorsese, and he assembled this film effectively from his own screenplay. I liked his script. He used all the standard crime story elements, but he also layered in a complicated "sting" which was hidden from the audience, then he added some colorful and sometimes humorous details, and gave the main characters distinctive and interesting roles to play.

This film was originally made with an eye to theatrical distribution, but ending up going straight to video. That was probably the right decision financially, because I just don't see "theatrical blockbuster" written all over this, but it's definitely one of the best straight-to-vids I have seen. In fact, I'm hard-pressed to name a better one. I wasn't blown away, but I found it an easy watch. The film is not original, but it has a good plot, interesting major and minor characters, a good look, and solid performances. You might fairly compare it to the Warner Brothers crime films of the Cagney era, solid B-movie fare.

It just doesn't have anything to do with Carlito's Way.



  • The widescreen transfer is anamorphically enhanced (16x9), and looks excellent.
  • There are two "making of" featurettes.
  • A few deleted scenes.


Jaclyn Desantis showed her breasts and her well-toned upper body in a sex scene.

Three or four different topless dancers appeared in a strip club.

The Critics Vote ...

  • No major reviews online

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a C, not a movie to go out of your way for, but good for a straight-to-vid. Not original, but completely competent.

Return to the Movie House home page