De Palma is at his campy, carnal, degenerate best evoking the retired gangster's neon-lit world. Carlito is like Bogart in Casablanca; he manages a popular nightclub where mounds of cocaine are consumed and uninhibited sex is everywhere (no one's heard of crack babies or AIDS yet), yet the stoic hero abstains. Tito Puente and Willie Colon alternate with the Bee Gees, B.T. Express, and KC and the Sunshine Band over the sound system. Lights flash, music pounds, waves of attractive young people in full Seventies regalia shake their booties to "Fly, Robin, Fly" and "Disco Inferno." If the movie had no other redeeming values, it would still be fun for the opportunity to vicariously relive the excesses of the lost decade.
Pacino's Carlito cuts through it all like Batman in his calf-length, black leather jacket and matching suit, but his buddy Kleinfeld is all bad hair, gaudy ties, and bell-bottoms. The receding 'do renders Sean Penn nearly unrecognizable, but his subtly detailed portrayal of the wanna-be wiseguy attorney is as sublime as the goofy locks are embarrassing. It's the volatile young actor's best work in a long time; just holding your own with Pacino at the top of his game is a noteworthy accomplishment. And this is definitely Pacino at the top of his game. Go out of your way for Carlito.