After the costly, clumsy debacle of BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES and the addled psychosis of RAISING CAIN, Brian De Palma engineered something of a recovery with CARLITO'S WAY, a colorful melodrama set in the Latino mob world of the mid-1970s. The director is in good company here. Al Pacino gives an urgent, bravura performance as the title character, a former drug boss who's had a lengthy prison sentence cut short thanks to a legal technicality, and now wants to go straight--really. Sean Penn is superbly nerdy as David Kleinfeld, the lawyer who freed Carlito, but whose greed ultimately leads to his and his client's undoing. Standouts among the classy ensemble are John Leguizamo (SUPER MARIO BROS.), as a brutal young hood on his way up through the ranks, and Luis Guzman (Q & A), as Carlito's trusted sidekick. CARLITO'S WAY has its slow moments (any scenes with the anemic Penelope Ann Miller, who plays Carlito's girlfriend), and its plot weaknesses (we can't quite believe Carlito would be so loyal to Kleinfeld, who is so transparently devious). But these are far outweighed by the great cast; the lovingly detailed recreation of disco-era New York (the soundtrack, ranging from "Oye Como Va" to "Disco Inferno," was compiled by Jellybean Benitez); the street poetry that slurs its way so convincingly out of Pacino's mouth; and, most of all, some classic De Palma action sequences. For the heart-stopping scenes in the poolroom and at Grand Central Station, the director can be forgiven anything--even BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES.