This Looks Terrible! The Godson (1998)
Over the course of over twenty years writing about the dregs of popular culture, but particularly over the eight or so months I’ve spent writing Nathan Rabin Happy’s Place, I have become a connoisseur of empty rooms, an aficionado of crumbling wallpaper and sad little televisions propped along yellowing walls.
These sad little rooms speak to me so much more compellingly, strongly and sadly than what’s going on inside them. There’s a banal poetry to the artless ugliness of a truly cheap, artless movie, and 1998’s The Godson, a clumsily endearing spoof of The Godfather specifically but also Goodfellas (of course) and pretty much every famous mob movie ever is about as artless as it gets.
The Godson begins, appropriately enough, on a note of literal comic overkill. Over swanky saxophone that is the film’s sorry idea of sultry, hunky mafia goon Sunny Calzone, played by writer-director Bob Hoge, clad in the requisite soiled undershirt, is in bed with a woman—fucking—before his carnal liaison of straight-on missionary sex is interrupted by rival goons with machine guns who shoot him over and over and over again, to the point of, well, overkill.
But instead of dying, the bullets do nothing to him. He defiantly utters “Fahgettaboudit”, which is something people in mob comedies say to be funny that has never actually been funny, then miraculously two guns appear, like magic, and he dispatches with his would-be assassins before he plummets out a window before being run over by a car.
Then he tries to hail a cab that has a hostile dinosaur in it for some reason that explodes for no reason, except that the hard to kill mobster still isn’t dead. Even after he's buried he's still not dead.
If that comic conceit sounds familiar that’s probably because you recall a similar sequence in The Naked Gun where O.J Simpson bumbles his way through an endless series of life-threatening calamities in a row yet somehow makes it out alive. That isn’t the only way in which The Godson resembles a Zucker Brothers comedy. The tone is nostalgically familiar, a soothingly identifiable hodgepodge of mugging, wacky sound effects, slapstick violence, goofball randomness and gallows humor.
The Godson isn’t even ambitious enough to rip off classics. It doesn’t dream of being Airplane! or The Naked Gun. Instead, it’s content to be a second-rate yet oddly satisfying knock-off like High School High or Mafia!
Then we’re introduced to our hero “Guppy”, played by Kids in the Hall’s Kevin McDonald with Sideshow Bob hair and a soul patch that looks more like a giant mass of pubic hair glued to the unfortunate comedy icon’s chin. Then again, despite being deep into his career, the Canadian sketch comedy favorite is billed as Kevin Hamilton McDonald so maybe he was trying to distance himself from the role, and we should respect his wishes and pretend he did not star in this motion picture.
Guppy is a member of the Calzone family, who owe their name to two of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s two incontrovertible rules of comedy: food is funny. Ethnic is even funnier. Ethnic and food? Fahgettaboudit! Here, however, food and ethnic, like the rest of the film, do not even reside in the same hemisphere as funny. Or even “Weird Al” Yankovic’s lesser work.
The Godson has a lot of fun with words. Or perhaps it would be more fun to say it has “fun” with words. The title character, for example, is a mafia kingpin who, we learn through our protagonist’s narration, won his unusual nickname by being Guppy’s father, and also odd. The Rodfather, meanwhile, is consequently named due to him being played by comedian Rodney Dangerfield. I wish they’d kept going with this and cast a slumming Terence Stamp as both the Modfather and the Kneel-Before Zod-father but no, apparently that would be too silly for this particular movie. Also, Stamp would probably say no and/or be prohibitively expensive.
Though Rodney Dangerfield is first-billed, The Oddfather basically exists to give Dom DeLuise a feature-length showcase for his impression of Don Corleone. I’m not sure that would have been enough to have a hung movie on in 1975, when The Godfather was still relatively fresh in the public imagination and Dom DeLuise was inexplicably a fixture of huge Hollywood blockbusters, most starring Burt Reynolds.
Twenty-three years later, the idea of building a movie on the questionable foundation of a hammy has been like DeLuise doing one of the world’s most overdone and exhausted impressions for an entire film is perversely anachronistic. If a movie or character is a quarter century old or older, it’s probably too late to spoof them, something the Jaws-spoofing Pottersville should have kept in mind as well.
Ah, but DeLuise’s kooky capo isn’t just a faithful imitation of the most exhausted impersonation this side of Jack Nicholson. He’s also crazy. How crazy? This dude has a duck that he pets instead of a cat. That’s certainly unorthodox. Instead of a conventional, respected, accredited university, he enrolls Guppy in Mafia University, whose phone number (strange that an entire college has but a single number) is 1-555-We-Killa-U. These are the jokes, folks! Tip your waiters.
This leads to Guppy, having shaved off his Adam Duritz-style facial hair and traded in his hippie gear for sharp suits, matriculating at the aforementioned Mafia University, which has the requisite terrible jokes but also an unexpectedly non-terrible one in a class on the silent Mafia code of Omertà that is, appropriately enough, uncontaminated by sound.
The Godson similarly seems to have attended Hack Mob Comedy University (the only school of higher learning less reputable than Trump University), where it absolutely killed (as in mob-style assassinated!) in such subjects as Marlon Brando 101 and That Scene From Goodfellas with the slow-motion and the introduction of all the humorously nicknamed hoodlums 317.
Ah, but The Godson isn’t just a perversely tardy The Godfather parody. It’s also, bewilderingly but agreeably, a Kevin McDonald vehicle. There aren’t too many of those around, in no small part due to McDonald starring in The Godson but McDonald’s scrawny comic awkwardness is always welcome, even when it’s thinly camouflaged with an unlikely underworld kingpin’s wildly overcompensating cockiness.
McDonald is invariably better than his material, which goes for every cheap, silly dad joke in the book with strangely ingratiating goonishness, like when the ascendant Guppy sits down with all the big Dons, including Don King, Don Ho, Don.E Brasco and Don Pardo, one of a series of familiar names and voices willing to lend their services briefly to the film in exchange for financial compensation. n
This scene also introduces The Rodfather, nearly a half hour into a film where his name is first in the credits. Longtime Rodney watchers know that there’s a cheesy synchronicity to Dangerfield starring in a parody of The Godfather since it was that movie’s emphasis on respect and Don Corleone being a man of respect that inspired Dangerfield’s “No respect” punchline in the first place.
Sure enough, the Rodfather uses the big mob sit-down to very briefly roast two of his fellow Dons. He asks Guppy how long he’s been out of the water (a humorous allusion to a guppy also being a kind of fish) and tells Don King that he looks like he just saw his wife naked, which references the boxing promoter's famously eccentric hairdo, which in a certain light might resemble the locks of someone frightened or surprised, as well as the presumed unattractiveness of the Rodfather's wife.
Needless to say, these jokes aren’t funny but this scene retains one of the unfortunate staples of Dangerfield’s later films: supporting character laughing enthusiastically and unconvincingly at Dangerfield’s wisecracks to let us know that Rodney is funny. How sad is it that pretty much all of these movies feel the need to insist, often and insistently, that Rodney is funny instead of simply providing a context that allows him to be funny? The Godson does not provide Dangerfield even a single moment to be genuinely, organically funny, especially not in the requisite spoof of Goodfellas’ “Do you think I’m funny?” scene. And Scarface! If you think you're going to get away without McDonald doing Tony Montana for much of the film's third act you're wrong,
Guppy falls in love with Rodfather’s sexy daughter before Guppy’s lost, jealous brother Frito returns to try to usurp him as the family’s new leader. That’s more plot than a movie like this really needs but heaven knows they have to fill out that 100 minute long runtime somehow and they sure can’t do so with Dangerfield’s supporting role.
In keeping with his other films, Dangerfield here plays a self-made man of modest means. How modest? Are you kidding? Where he grew up, one day they raffled off a police car—with two COPS still in it! In his building, he had nothing but robberies. Every time he closed a window he hit somebody’s FINGERS!
It certainly is nice and convenient of the Oddfather to “set up” the Rodfather by asking him about the rough and tumble, hardscrabble nature of his childhood.
The Oddfather doesn’t have much going for it, but it does have Kevin McDonald in the lead and Rodney playing a supporting character instead of either a lead or a showy cameo. He has a handful of scenes and functions prominently in the plot even if he’s not exactly called to do much in the way of acting.
Honestly, my standards for parodies are so low that I really appreciate it when they aren’t unspeakably terrible and, to damn The Godson with the faintest of praise, this isn’t as screamingly awful as some of the Corey Feldman movies I covered for Corey Feldman month or even the Rodney Dangerfield stinkers I’ve written about for No Respect January, many of which actually star Dangerfield.
Given the sad nature of Dangerfield’s final decade onscreen, that’s not necessarily a good thing. After all, Back by Midnight and My 5 Wives are lousy with Rodney (who also co-wrote the scripts) in addition to being just plain lousy.
The Godson hit me right in nostalgia sweet spot. It’s got jokes about Reservoir Dogs, Wayne’s World, Bill Clinton playing saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show, “Speak to the hand, not the face” and “What’s the Story (Morning Glory).” It’s the kind of instantly dated schlock-fest that has a terrible Bill Clinton impersonator telling the real Joey Buttafuoco, “I feel your pain!” which is exactly the kind of terrible non-joke that brings me an almost unseemly amount of joy.
The Godson is not funny, but it’s not offensively terrible either. It’s just inoffensively silly. It’s no better than a second rate National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon but I’ve been around long enough and seen enough shit for that to be a halfway appealing proposition. I suspect the same is true of some of y’all as well.
Support a crazy man howling into the wilderness, join a nice community and get access to patron-exclusive content from a dude just trying to make sense of an insane world over at https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace