`GODFATHER III'' is a second-rate achievement, and it's bound to raise the question of whether Francis Ford Coppola's career is on the skids for good. After all, despite an occasional hit like ``Peggy Sue Got Married,'' his work has been anything but consistent for the past 15 years, and it was largely the memory of ``Godfather I & II'' that sustained his reputation through the hard times of more than one hooted-down production, from the heavy-handed ``One From the Heart'' to the forgettable ``Gardens of Stone.''
Now that even the ``Godfather'' series has lost its magic for him, is his future bleak? Opinions on this may vary, but I'm sure Coppola has more top-grade work to give us. His best films have shown evidence of prodigious talent - remember ``The Conversation'' and even ``Apocalypse Now,'' which was hugely flawed but hugely fascinating - and even his recent career has served up at least one excellent offering, ``Tucker: The Man and His Dream,'' which is as inventive as it is underrated.
Then, too, his films sometimes look better with age. I wasn't thrilled with either of the first two ``Godfather'' pictures when they first arrived, but fell under their sway on subsequent viewings.
It's unlikely that the raggedly written and acted ``Godfather III'' will turn out to be a classic or anything close to that, but its scope and ambition show that Coppola still yearns to exercise his talent to its fullest. There's every reason to hope he'll be back in top form soon.