The Freshman (1990)

28 Jan


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“The Freshman” could be considered a spin-off of “The Godfather,” since both movies feature a character who is not only entirely similar to each other, but also played by Marlon Brando. In “The Godfather,” he was Don Vito Corleone. In “The Freshman,” he’s Carmine Sabatini, the man that is said to have inspired the character in “The Godfather” (despite the fact that “The Godfather” was a novel before it was a film). In every way respectful, he is the Godfather. He looks like him, acts like him, talks like him, and has the same kind of what could be considered discreet authority as him. With Marlon Brando playing the role of Sabatini, it’s in the great tradition of the original character Corleone, and not taken as a ripoff or a cheap shot.

And what’s better is that “The Freshman” is not supposed to be as serious and epic as “The Godfather.” It’s a comedy—this is the joke; Brando pays a Mafia man extraordinary similar in every way to Don Corleone. And the screenplay and supporting actors don’t let him down.

The story isn’t necessarily about him, like how “The Godfather” wasn’t necessarily about the Godfather. But like the Godfather, Sabatini plays a crucial role in a young man’s life. The young man in “The Freshman” is a film school student Clark Kellogg (Matthew Broderick). He has left his home in Vermont to attend New York University to study film. Things don’t start out very well, as his luggage and money are stolen by thief Victor Ray (Bruno Kirby). When Clark goes to school, his film professor (Paul Benedict) doesn’t tolerate excuses.

Clark confronts the thief and demands his stuff back. Instead, Victor offers Clark a job. He brings him down to Little Italy, where Carmine Sabatini socializes and keeps his office. Clark can’t believe the striking resemblance to Marlon Brando’s Don Corleone, but Victor advises him not to bring it up. Clark has a conversation with Sabatini and it is like he’s actually talking to the Godfather. It intrigues him (and in some way, scares him), so Clark takes the job when the offer is made.

The job involves the movement of a giant lizard—a Komodo Dragon. In a very funny sequence of events, Clark and his roommate Steve (Frank Whaley) attempt to be discreet about moving this lizard from an airport and driving it (an especially difficult task) to an animal smuggler (Maximilian Schell) and his assistant (B.D. Wong).

But before he knows it, Clark finds himself a part of the Mafia family. Clark is doing what Sabatini and Victor tell him to do through a lot of convincing, and he’s also in the middle of a relationship with Sabatini’s daughter Tina (Penelope Ann Miller) that goes way too fast for him, even pressuring into marriage. Everyone is even doing favors for him, like subtly threatening Clark’s film professor for an A-grade. And things get him in more legal danger than he expected. What’s he to do?

“The Freshman” is a sharp, funny, well-written movie that really makes good use, paying homage to “The Godfather” (clips of it are even shown in film class as examples). And it features a highly respectable performance by Marlon Brando, who is truly marvelous in playing a variation of the iconic character he brought to life. It’s strange that Brando didn’t think as highly of the film as I do, as well as most people who saw it. It’s reported that he attacked the movie when it first screened, calling it trash. Well, Brando may be a highly dedicated actor, but he’s no film critic. “The Freshman” is very enjoyable.

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