“The Godfather of Green Bay” (2005)

by A.J. Hakari


Maybe Wisconsin really is as weird as the movie industry seems to think. Maybe living in the madness for 27 years has blinded me to the notion that, to the outside world, our deer hunting and Packer chanting are real knee-slappers. Or it could just mean that they’ve run out of good jokes to tell, which happens to independently-produced The Godfather of Green Bay before its protagonist even sets foot in Ed Gein’s home state. The most novel twist it brings to the table is not mentioning snow (that’s right, Wisconsin isn’t a perpetually-frozen wasteland), though there are other stereotypes and cheap laughs that more than make up for it.

Writer/director Pete Schwaba plays Joe Keegan, a Chicago native who’s been on the stand-up comedy circuit for 15 years. Unfortunately, all he has to show for it are piles of empty whiskey bottles left in his wake and bruises left on his face by an unruly heckler. All Joe wants is a little validation for his hard work, and his chance comes in the form of a trip to the teensy burg of Pine Lake, Wisconsin. It’s at a local bar that Joe’s prop comic buddy (Lance Barber) says that a scout for “The Tonight Show” stops by every year, so the guys waste no time in high-tailing it up north. But as Joe awaits the night of his big gig, he reconnects with a sweetie (Lauren Holly) from his past…who just so happens to be the object of affection for a drug dealer (Tony Goldwyn) with a bad temper and even worse mullet.

The Godfather of Green Bay is a mixture of moments that try too hard and moments that don’t try, period. It’s as if it keeps remembering how formulaic it is and goes almost cringingly overboard trying to make itself stand out. If you’ve seen Garden State, Elizabethtown, or any film so brave as to depict the wrenching struggle of being a thirtysomething white male, then you know where The Godfather of Green Bay is heading. Schwaba does create a more casual atmosphere that doesn’t come across as whiny or self-absorbed as those other titles, and this flick’s equivalent of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl actually comes across like a human being. Still, Joe’s search for a bit of recognition falls flat, what with no sense of urgency supporting it and having to vie for attention with peripheral characters bent on showing you just how goddamned colorful they are.

Feeling every bit the homegrown production that it probably was, The Godfather of Green Bay feels completely out-of-place whenever it decides to work blue. It’s pretty liberal with the cursing, copping an edgy attitude when it should be using the warm heart it knows it has to expand on its repertoire of Wisconsin gags. Save for Thomas “Jim Dangle” Lennon’s role as a loudmouthed comic wannabe, nothing really strikes a humorous chord here. Schwaba and Holly share some nice scenes together, but with a script that doesn’t give them terribly much to do, you’re rarely laughing when they land in a pickle or showing concern when they’re in danger. Lord knows that Goldwyn’s Big Jake Norquist (the eponymous, self-proclaimed kingpin of eastern Wisconsin) isn’t inducing any fear or chuckles with his often-indecipherable accent and penchant for the Macarena that gets more painful every time it’s brought up.

The Godfather of Green Bay never aspires to be more than an innocent little flick about following your dreams, and that this message does come through in spite of all the creaky wisecracks says something about Schwaba’s talents. It means well, and while it’s an ultimately dull viewing experience, I can’t say I honestly hated anything about it. But if you’re like me — waiting for the definitive Wisconsin-based movie to come a-calling — you won’t find much in The Godfather of Green Bay to boast about.