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‘The Godfather Part III’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 28, 1990

There were these two great movies called "The Godfather" and "The Godfather Part II." But this latest installment, optimistically referred to as "The Godfather Part III," is one offer director Francis Ford Coppola should have refused.

Perhaps antagonized by the universal acclaim of the first two films, Coppola and original "Godfather" author Mario Puzo have overachieved in the wrong directions. They lay in so much plot detail, it's hard to keep track of what's going on. This story is mainly about aging don Al Pacino's attempts to redeem himself. But it's cluttered up with blind-alley episodes and gratuitous Godfatherisms.

"Godfather I" started with a family celebration and a shady backroom discussion. So does this movie. In the first movie, Pacino's men took care of his rivals while he attended his child's baptism. In "G-III," he repeats the procedure, only this time he goes to the opera. Former don Marlon Brando succumbed to a heart attack; his son and successor Pacino suffers a diabetes stroke. Whereas Brando had to keep hothead son James Caan in check, Pacino has to keep the lid on impulsive nephew Andy Garcia. In the third installment, there's another assassination attempt among vendor stands, Al "Spanish Eyes" Martino sings again and someone complains of getting No Respect.

They should have called this "Seems Like Old Times."

The new movie is set in 1979, almost a decade since the events of "Godfather II." Pacino, now in his 60s, is on the up and up. He's given up the murder business, sold most of the family gambling interests and put his considerable money in banks and real estate. On the personal side, he wants to rebridge the divide between himself and his family: ex-wife Diane Keaton, son Franc D'Ambrosio and daughter Sofia Coppola.

But he encounters resistance on every level. A consortium of Catholic businessmen (including Helmet Berger) fights his attempts to take over the Vatican bank. His son has defied Pacino's wish that he go into law, choosing an opera career. Rash nephew Garcia (really the illegitimate son of Sonny Corleone) has started a feud with gangster rival Joe Mantegna and, to the godfather's chagrin, has Italian eyes for daughter Coppola.

These disparate strands, which include trips to Rome, Sicily and Atlantic City, don't interweave so much as form a knot of confusion. Adding to that confusion is the movie's mismatched tone. It's hard to tell if this thing's serious or parody and, if it is parody, whether or not it's intentional. Is it a winky joke, for instance, to have lightweight performer George Hamilton as Pacino's business attorney, or just ridiculous casting? Hamilton's performance points to the latter.

And why, really, is Keaton in this movie? After not seeing Pacino for eight years, her character shows up out of the blue, only to spend her on-screen time tagging along with the action. Did she just want to be in the production?

Talia Shire's character change is another confusing element. Previously a demure Corleone sister, she seems to have gone right over the campy edge with murderous enthusiasm. "Do it!" she tells Pacino with beady eyes, begging him to deep-six an opponent.

"Now they'll fear you," she says later, when a Corleone member is dispatched to kill an enemy.

"Maybe they should fear you," retorts Pacino with a revulsion that's likely to induce the wrong kind of laughter.

As the out-of-control ladies' man and Pacino's budding next-in-line, Garcia's the best thing about this movie. But again, is it intentional parody when he keeps popping people off and Pacino, with an almost-farcical regularity, keeps rapping his knuckles?

"Don't . . . ever . . . again . . . give that kind of order," Uncle Godfather testily tells his nephew with all the serious depth of Moe in "The Three Stooges."

This Pacino-Garcia relationship does lead to the best scene in the movie, a cliffhanging (and of course, bloody) climax at the opera. Involving rifle scopes, silent stabbings in the audience, and, among many other things, death by poisonous cannoli, it's classic "Godfather" fare. But a sweet dessert like this doesn't redeem all that stuff you've had to swallow before.

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