The Godson (1998): Mafi-oh-no

It might have failed to put a smile on Dave’s miserable face, but he’s still keen to ask writer-director Bob Hoge about how his Godfather spoof came to be.

Kevin McDonald is, of course, infamous for co-founding The Kids in the Hall comedy troupe alongside his friend Dave Foley. After a successful five season run ended in 1994, McDonald flirted with the movies, appearing in the likes of National Lampoon’s Senior Trip (1995) and Boy Meets Girl (1998) – but despite his undeniable comic ability, his leading man status was stifled after only one role.

It seems, then, that THE GODSON (1998) has a lot to answer for…

Graduating from Duke University with a degree in political science, writer-director Bob Hoge started out in the film business at the beginning of the ‘90s as part of Jersey Films, the legendary production company of Danny DeVito and Michael H. Shamberg. Beginning as a production assistant before progressing to story editor, Hoge’s year there was a pivotal period in his career, giving him the impetus to pen both of his produced features.

Shooting in March ’96, first up was Marry Me or Die (1996). Marry Me or Die performed well on the festival circuit, bagging an award at the New York International Independent Film & Video fest, but when it came to home video, the romcom struggled to find a distributor. Filmed eighteen months later and faring significantly better in terms of circulation was The Godson – although from a critical point of view, it’s an arduous undertaking at times, even if Hoge’s intentions were honourable.

“Growing up I had always loved Charlie Chaplin,” recalls Hoge. “Then came the masterful Inspector Clouseau from the Pink Panther movies and I couldn’t get enough. And then Airplane (1980) arrived and that, to me, really started the whole spoof craze. Some of them were absolutely brilliant; my kids and I watch them to this day and always end up on the floor laughing. Suffice to say, I like silly humor, so I thought, wouldn’t it be funny to spoof The Godfather (1972)? How has no one done that yet?! The irony being that during production, we found out that Paramount was indeed making Mafia! (1998) with Lloyd Bridges. We pretty much freaked out. I can’t lie. How the hell could we compete with that?! But we were already filming so we just had to forge ahead.” [1]

“We had a script and we were trying to raise funds. Just a motley group attempting to make a movie. Then Dom DeLuise signed on, and that was a game changer. He was a riot and would mutter “Yer mother’s ass” when he didn’t like something, in only the way Dom could do it. Honestly, you have to picture it – words don’t do it justice. So suddenly we realized, hey, this might really be happening! Along the way we picked up some more great talent, and we got ready to shoot.”

Giuseppe ‘The Guppy’ Calzone (McDonald) inadvertently becomes the head of his family’s business following the grisly death of his brother, Sunny (played by Hoge himself). His aging dad (Dom DeLuise) is all too aware of Guppy’s inadequacies so sends him to a Cosa Nostra-themed university to whip him into shape. However, this clears a path for a rival mob boss, The Oddfather (Rodney Dangerfield), to strike and bring the Calzones to their knees…

Poor Dom DeLuise. Just when you think that the worst parody he could appear in was Ezio Greggio’s The Silence of the Hams (1994), up he crops in this. But hey: at least he squeezed in a dual role as himself in order to promote his cookbook. No, seriously! Almost failing to raise a single smirk across its excessive run time of one-hundred long minutes, The Godson is a challenge to finish as you wade stony-faced through: riffs on Joe Pesci’s “Funny how?” speech from GoodFellas (1990); horse antics a la The Godfather; and humourless skits taking aim at everything from Pretty Woman (1990) to former president Bill Clinton. Thankfully, the fleeting presence of Dangerfield offers some momentary relief, even if his inclusion came at the eleventh hour as Hoge explains:

“Literally the night before shooting we got the earth-shattering news that Rodney Dangerfield wanted in. There was no part written for him, but what were we gonna do, say no? I met him the next night, and I was of course intimidated – I’m just this guy and now I’m directing Rodney freakin’ Dangerfield?! I don’t think he ever learned my name. I was just ‘director’ – as in, “Ey director, am I over here or over there?”. He was a hoot, though, and unlike some actors he was exactly the same in person as he was in his movies.”

“Right after I met him, we had to start shooting because we were on the clock. Since we had literally only got him the night before, we were scrambling with how best to fit him in. I made up lines on the spot, whispered them in his ear, then yelled, “action!”. The adrenaline was pounding pretty hard at that point.”

Some Dangerfield ultimately leaves you wanting more Dangerfield, and McDonald is certainly no substitute. He seems to be channelling a combination of Pauly Shore and Dana Carvey in order to achieve the required level of dumb for Guppy, and it’s all a little exhausting. Mercifully, the rest of Hoge’s impressive ensemble offer some – some – value, specifically Carol Arthur, Lou Ferrigno, and a yellow-suited Irwin Keyes in a welcome role of some – SOME – substance.

Comedy is perhaps the most subjective of film genres, and I’m sure there’s an audience for The Godson who no doubt find it hysterical. Alas, that’s not me – although I do at least admire Hoge’s indefatigable desire to get it made, and his ability to wing it.

“We shot it in about twenty-one days, I believe,” concludes the filmmaker. “Sleep was in short supply. Combine that with the fact that we were rewriting the script for Rodney on the fly and you can see why it was a crazy shoot. When we finished, we had a premiere, brought it to foreign marketplaces, and eventually Sterling acquired it. They were part of Lionsgate, I believe. All I know is they bought the rights, and they did a decent job of distributing it. It was at every Blockbuster and it played on Showtime and it’s still on Amazon to this day. It didn’t quite beat Titanic (1998), but it didn’t get totally buried either. I’m not going to pretend I got rich off of it, but I had a hell of a time!”

[1] Mafia! also pipped The Godson to the public eye, opening in two-thousand U.S. cinemas in late July 1998. Hoge’s filmed limped onto video ten weeks later.

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