The disco is the worst part of Disco Godfather, and there’s a lot of it. More often than the desired amount, which would be zero, the movie screeches to a halt for a dance sequence that is more bewildering than anything. Checkered dance floors aside, the movie is a slightly more muted outing for Rudy Ray Moore, the film’s producer, and lead actor, who made his name playing the kung fu pimp of many insults, Dolemite.
Moore is Tucker Williams, an ex-cop who traded in the badge for a pair of platform shoes. He’s the owner of a disco and its frequent master of ceremonies, at which time he repeatedly entreats the dancing crowd to “put your weight on it.” This overseeing role as the biggest haunt in town means Tucker has his finger on the pulse of the community. Therefore, when a mysterious drug called Angel Dust begins ruining lives, including that of his own nephew, Tucker takes it upon himself to find the source of Angel Dust and clip its wings. He does so in the traditional, Rudy Ray Moore manner: a flurry of uncoordinated karate chops and long-winded insults (my favorite being, “you decrepit, old, stupid son of a bitch”).
“…Moore still brings the goods with a passionate, occasionally deranged performance.”
Even though the film is more restrained than the unabashedly goofy Dolemite, Moore still brings the goods with a passionate, occasionally deranged performance. It’s muffled for the majority of the film when he’s in “concerned citizen” mode, but in the final 20 minutes or so, the story goes off the rails—in a good way, like off the rails onto another set of sturdier, glossier rails. If Rod Serling ever had a bad trip, it might look a little like the psychological hall of mirrors that Tucker finds himself in. This entire sequence—eased into by a succession of one-on-one bouts that look like Street Fighter matches played by people who’ve never touched a controller—fulfills every unspoken promise made by the film’s absurd name and bargain bin aesthetic. In fewer words, it’s hilarious.
Until those final twenty minutes, however, the film comes off as a hipper than average afterschool special. I’m sure at some point in history, wiggling beneath a disco ball had its appeal to an audience—just as today, jumping up and down while a DJ shoots you with a laser pointer somehow passes for a concert—but as a citizen of the future looking back, these practices elicit only apathy and a mild pang of loathing. But maybe I’m being too hard on it. There are some chuckle-inducing moments when Moore shimmies across the dance floor with an unsettling smile on his face, and all to the mindless chant of “godfather of the disco,” which will remain stuck in my head until the end of days.
While the hilarious karate and hallucinations that close the film are worth the wait, they don’t justify the gleeful submission to the era’s fads or the preachy, anti-drug crusade, both of which make Disco Godfather too inhibited for its own good.
Disco Godfather (1979) Directed by J. Robert Wagoner. Written by J. Robert Wagoner and Cliff Roquemore. Starring Rudy Ray Moore, Carol Speed, Jimmy Lynch, Jerry Jones, Lady Reeds, James H. Hawthorne, Frank Finn, Julius J. Carry III.
5 out of 10