The Freshman (1990)
More Fish Out of Water Than Sleeping With Them
There's a kind of freedom in being completely screwed... because you know things can't get any worse - Clark Kellogg
"The Freshman" is a strange little movie, at times seeming rather predictable as it mixes a bit of slapstick, a touch of fish out of water and heavy dose of movie pastiche as it not so much spoofs "The Godfather" but cleverly uses it as a base for the humour. But then when you start to think that it's not going anywhere other than a series of slightly offbeat scenes it delivers a series of twists, that yes they may be contrived, but in a movie which is all about the subtle laughs work wonders.
Having just arrived in New York to attend film school, young Clark Kellogg (Matthew Broderick - Glory) is quickly taken in by a passer by, Victor Ray (Bruno Kirby - When Harry Met Sally...), who legs it with Clarks luggage and money. But Clark fortuitously bumps into him again and Victor offers to find him work for his uncle Carmine Sabatini (Marlon Brando - Superman), a modern day mobster who uncannily looks like The Godfather from the movie. Clark quickly discovers that the job he performs for Sabatini is less than legal causing him to come under the spotlight of a surveillance team whilst also having to contend with the amorous advances of Tina (Penelope Ann Miller - Chaplin), Sabatini's only daughter.
The best thing about "The Freshman" is Marlon Brando who as Carmine Sabatini is having fun with his iconic role of Don Vito Corleone from "The Godfather". It's not Corleone but it might as well be because Brando brings him back to life, the mumbling, the stare, the menace it is all there in all its glory but there is also the addition of wit. Brando's control over the character means that he can turn something as menacing as crushing walnuts in one hand into something slightly amusing, which raises a knowing laugh for those who have seen his iconic performance in "The Godfather".
But Brando doesn't make the movie on his own and writer/director Andrew Bergman has equal control over the movie as he takes us on the entertaining journey of almost predictable ness before waking us up with some entertaining, contrived twists. In lesser hands "The Freshman" could have turned into a serious mess of over done pastiche instead of the cleverly crafted one it turned out. A scene where they are in the back of the restaurant is pure mafia pastiche and the whole nod to the genre down to the point of the Bacio di tutti baci - the kiss of all kisses is just brilliant.
But there are issues and much of that comes from Matthew Broderick who puts in a fine performance yet has one of the most confused characters. Here we have this naive kid entering New York to go to college and he gets scammed all of which is expected except that Clark isn't naive enough as he happily tackles chasing someone rather than being afraid to. It ends up as a slightly wet, unconvincing character, yet Broderick makes him charming and entertaining.
Elsewhere Bruno Kirby gives an enjoyable performance as a caricature of every low life street criminal you've ever seen on the big screen in the form of Victor Ray and Penelope Ann Miller is a feisty, flirtatious delight as Carmine's only daughter Tina. But "The Freshman" is really about the performance of Marlon Brando rather than anyone else.
What this all boils down to is that "The Freshman" is a surprisingly enjoyable movie. It may start off rather predictable but it throws some entertaining if not contrived twists at you and follows it up with a nice pastiche on "The Godfather" with Marlon Brando putting in a nice turn as mob boss Carmine Sabatini.
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