The critics agree: Francis Ford Coppola's long-awaited "The Godfather Part III" is not as good as its 1972 and 1974 predecessors, but given the series' appeal and the weak competition among holiday movies, it offers an alternative that moviegoers shouldn't refuse. The critics found plenty to fault with "Part III"--which opens today--most notably the casting of Sofia Coppola, the director's teen-age daughter, in a pivotal role. Said Time magazine's Richard Corliss: "(Her) gosling gracelessness comes close to wrecking the movie."
The New York Post's Jami Bernard went a little further, declaring that "Coppola has virtually ruined his movie by casting (her)," and added "there'll be hell to pay around the Coppola house after Sofia's notices come out."
Gene Siskel, of "Siskel & Ebert at the Movies," found her "out of her acting league."
On the other hand, Channel 7's Gary Franklin, called the casting of Sofia Coppola "inspired," saying her character was "magnificently played" and, on an ensuing broadcast, read aloud the grateful telegram he received from her father.
Other Sofia Coppola defenders included Roger Ebert, who said she added to the movie "through the very freshness of her unstudied and direct performance," and Owen Gleiberman, of Entertainment Weekly, who said, "this non-actress has a ripe adolescent sexiness."
The script, credited to Coppola and Mario Puzo, his collaborator on the first two "Godfathers," also came in for frequent attack. Ebert, Siskel's on-air partner in a syndicated TV movie review show, said the script "seems kind of half-baked or half-finished." The Los Angeles Daily News' Bob Strauss called it the film's "big minus."
A number of others noted that the third installment of the Corleone family's struggle seems to have personal and professional parallels to Coppola's own life. With a nod to the filmmaker's much-publicized financial woes and recent film failures, the Boston Phoenix' Peter Keough observed that while the film's central character, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), is in need of redemption, "Coppola is even more so--not just from debts, but from mediocrity"
Michael Clark gave the film three out of four stars in USA Today, and suggested that "Part III" derives its stature "weighed solely against too many underwhelming holiday pictures."
Few critics, even among "Part III's" strongest fans, compared it favorably to its predecessors, and some--like the Today Show's Gene Shalit--bluntly dismissed it as a major failure. Lawrence Toppman, of the Charlotte Observer, referred to "ludicrous plot twists" and "shallow characterizations" and added, "the central plot drowns in subplots and extraneous details like a mammoth sinking into a tar pit."
The Times' Michael Wilmington, in a lengthy review in Sunday's Calendar, expressed disappointment with the script and said the film was inevitably flawed by the loss of Robert Duvall's Tom Hagen character, but measured against the standards of today's filmmaking, it's still "one of the best American movies of the year." Wilmington, Sheila Benson and Kevin Thomas all included "Godfather III" in their year-end Top 10 lists, also published Sunday in Calendar.
Excerpts from other "Godfather III" reviews:
* "A meandering but finally quite affecting climax to the saga . . . a slow fuse with a big bang"--Richard Corliss, Time magazine.
* "Not in the same league as the first two films in the series, but, how many films are?"--Gene Siskel of "Siskel & Ebert at the Movies," who, along with reviewer Roger Ebert, gave the film a "thumbs-up."
* "(The film) is well-crafted and looks good. But unlike 'Godfather' and 'Godfather II,' it is not a masterpiece. The disappointment can be crushing"--Jami Bernard, New York Post.
* "The third best of (Coppola's) epic cycle . . . against all odds, Coppola has capped off one of the great achievements of true popular culture"--Jack Kroll, Newsweek.
* "A rich, resonant and deeply felt conclusion to the greatest and longest gangster movie of all time"--Jim Emerson, Orange County Register.
* "Not a masterpiece, perhaps, but the work of a masterful filmmaker . . . it is a work at one with its virtues and faults, a unified and fractured film. It is hellaciously stimulating"--Henry Sheehan, L.A. Reader.
* "Overstuffed and irresistible . . . few films in recent memory have offered as much bravura, cinematic pleasure"--Bob Strauss, Los Angeles Daily News.
* "(The film) represents a level of storytelling magic a few notches shy of the original two films. But it is painfully genuine . . . you feel Coppola's full engagement at the emotional level"--Stephen Hunter, Baltimore Sun.
* "Coppola's masterful gangster saga comes full circle with a vengeance--and heart-wrenching triumph"--Tom Sabulis, San Jose Mercury-News.
* "The narrative urgency is simply not there anymore . . . (but) for all its flaws, (the film) is a thoroughly admirable achievement"--Andrew Sarris, New York Observer.