Written by: Russell Davidson, CC2K Sports Editor
Most people on Earth have seen the first two Godfather movies, the saga of the Corleone crime family. Both parts I and II were hugely successful critically, financially, hell, in every way possible. Francis Ford Coppola (FFC) was showered with awards and riches for these two films, and deservedly so. They’re both great movies, complex, violent, entertaining. FFC went on to do other stuff of note, mainly Apocalypse Now. When asked about revisiting the Corleones, FFC said that he thought the story had been thoroughly told, that there was nothing left to say.
But then FFC fell upon hard times. His finances were in a perilous state. He knew another Godfather would bring in some bucks. So he agreed to do it, to make The Godfather, part III.
Now, what do you do when you’ve used up all your good ideas, when you’ve built archetypes and done all you can with them? You pull a fast one. Indeed, with a straight face, you make the greatest parody of a gangster film ever attempted. You take themes and beat them to death. You take characters and have them go over-the-top. You slip in lines that can only be laughed at. You frame everything around unjustified death and mayhem. You tell a story so convoluted no one can understand it.
I’ve cracked the mystery of The Godfather, part III, you see. It’s not terrible, it’s not an anchor on the other two films, it doesn’t sully their legacy. It’s satire, people, and one of the funniest films you’ll ever watch. You just gotta look at it that way.
The film opens with Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, doing a voice-over, something about moving to NYC, etc. But listen to the voice. Seems Al is doing his best to imitate Brando from Part I, gravelly, throaty, but not pulling it off. Done so badly, in fact, you begin to wonder.
Then we’re given Talia Shire, playing Connie, the sister. Remember her from the first two films, kinda meek, pushed around? FFC has turned her on her head, she’s now a Dragon Lady, in charge, wanting to kill anyone who threatens the Family. As she says to her brother Michael, “Now they fear you.” Michael’s reply is “Maybe they should fear YOU.” Huh? Shire plays Connie so differently than before, so single-minded, so overboard in her performance and lines, it makes zero sense. Unless, of course, you’re going for comic effect.
FFC, you rascal.
So what else do we need? A bad guy, an adversary? Enter Joe Mantegna as Joey Zasa, so named so everyone can go around saying “Zasa!” Mantegna’s line delivery, completely labored, obviously paved the road for him to be Fat Tony on the Simpsons. Every scene with Zasa is goofy. No subtlety anywhere. And when he gets two shots in the back, Andy Garcia gleefully yells “Zasa!” I was near-tears with laughter.
Let’s consider Andy Garcia. He’s the James Caan character, the Sonny. In fact, he’s supposed to be Sonny’s illegitimate son. So what does FFC do with this character?Goes ape with it. Garcia, as Vincent, has a hot temper, is good with the ladies, wears leather, is well-groomed, indeed, he’s Sonny, but to the Nth degree. Every line is shouted, “I say we kill ‘em!,” every bullet fired a bullseye. Hey, is this guy even human? He even bites off Zasa’s ear. Hilarious!
It goes on. How ‘bout Diane Keaton as the white-as-white-bread ex-wife with the Art Garfunkel bed-head? Her performance is so lifeless she had to have been told to do it that way, FFC’s comment on, what exactly? Don’t know, but every scene she’s in is comical. And it must have been intentional, no way it could have gotten by Coppola otherwise.
Now what else do the first films have that FFC can lampoon? How about some completely confusing nonsense about the Vatican Bank and dead Popes and corrupt clergy? III has it. Themes of “family” and “obligation” and “guilt” and “remorse” and “redemption,” so plain and on the surface they make you wonder, hmmmm, is this for real? Why exactly is everything being said, is everything so obvious, so out loud, nothing internalized? Because it’s supposed to be funny, duh.
It continues. FFC replaces Robert Duvall, a real actor, who played the unforgettable Tom Hagen, with George Hamilton, he of the perpetual tan! Craziness.
Need to kill some people off? A bomb? Nah, too easy, too logical. Needs to be HUGE to be funny. How ‘bout a helicopter pulling up and blasting away? Bingo. Need a public assassination, among vendors, like when Brando got it? Throw it in. Need a hospital scene, like when Brando was saved by Michael in part I? Let’s give Pacino a diabetic stroke, there’s your hospital scene. Want some scenes in Italy to pad it all? Go to Italy! Want to make some comment on love? Have two first cousins fall for each other and get it on. Yuck! Want to put on film the single worst performance by an actress ever? Put your non-acting daughter in the role, as FFC did, and plumb new depths of awfulness. This is some riotous shit here.
Want length? Wanna make some point about indulgent filmakers? Man, part III is 2 hours and 50 minutes long!
Want dialogue so bad it HAS to be done for humorous effect? Check these out:
“You became my horror.”
“I preferred you as a common Mafia hood.”
“If only prayer could pay off our $700 million deficit.”
“My lucky coat!”
“I’ve been treated with no respect.”
“I love him.” “But he’s your first cousin!” “Then I love him first.”
“The higher I go, the crookeder it becomes.”
“Tonight the Corleone family settles all accounts.”
And so on.
Need a big cross-cutting final sequence? Where it goes back and forth between something benign (an Opera, perhaps) and serious violence? Do it! Go from death bycannoli to death by poisoned tea to death by stabbing to death by suffocation to death by gun shot to death by eyeglasses (no way!), wow, what an ending!
So you see, I’ve figured it out. FFC has made the greatest Mafia film parody of all time. He ripped himself off, overdid everything, laid it on so thick the film can’t even breathe. Problem was, some people actually liked it, as a real film. When this happened, FFC chickened out. He couldn’t tell the truth, to tell what he was REALLY going for.
But guess what, Mr. Coppola? Your secret is no longer safe. You’ve been busted.
Time to fess up.