Not all famously bad films are so bad. Pootie Tang offers some absurdist pleasures. The Keanu Reeves 47 Ronin was fun in a B-movie way. The Adventures of Ford Fairlane isn’t very good, but it has its moments. Leonard Part 6, though, is just about as bad as its reputation suggests. Bill Cosby doesn’t only star, but he came up with the story and was the producer; he fails spectacularly on all levels. Though no review I could write could be as incisive and in-depth as the Agony Booth’s play-by-play, I think I’ll have some fun by comparing my present thoughts on the film with the review I wrote of it a few years ago.
First, a quick summary. Eco-terrorist Medusa (Gloria Foster) has a device called the Sphere, which allows (I think) her to control animals using the code word “Quelish”. After several federal agents are murdered by animals (the film begins with a man being murdered by a trout), FBI bigwig Snyderburn (Joe Don Baker) orders that veteran agent Leonard Parker (Cosby) be called out of retirement to stop Medusa. But Leonard is more concerned with his mercurial teenage daughter Joan (Victoria Rowell) and his estranged wife Allison (Pat Colbért), who left him over a misunderstanding.
When an attempted reconciliation with Allison goes sour, Leonard decides to take on the job, and some shit happens, and he wins, the end.
LEONARD PART 6 has the reputation of being historically bad, fueled by Bill Cosby’s disavowal of it–he insisted on picking up the film’s Golden Raspberry awards (Worst Picture, Actor, and Screenplay) himself, and appeared on talk shows advising viewers not to see it. But for all that, I have to say. it’s not THAT bad. Certainly it isn’t GOOD, at least in any generally appreciable way, but it’s a less grating experience than, say, YOUR HIGHNESS.
Okay, I suppose that’s true. Your Highness was more legitimately irritating. But it also probably had more actual laughs (i.e., at least one) than Leonard, which is just flat as all hell. I really wonder what Cosby was going for. He didn’t achieve it, whatever it was, but I’m still curious what he had in mind.
Cosby blamed the film’s failure on its director, newcomer Paul Weiland, and Weiland certainly doesn’t show any skill in comedic filmmaking. The film is flatly made throughout (it barely rises above TV level), and the pacing, even at a mere 85 minutes, is heavy-footed. But Cosby wrote the story and produced the film, so Weiland is hardly the only guilty party.
Yeah, the direction’s pretty damned mediocre. And it really doesn’t rise much above TV level (though the animal wrangling costs must have been hefty), which is all the more shocking when you realize (as Wikipedia tells us) that Leonard cost $24 million–more than The Last Emperor, which came out that very year. If you haven’t seen The Last Emperor, let me tell you: the money shows there. Leonard, on the other hand, frequently looks rather cheap–the special effects are appallingly shoddy, and for every scene where they clearly spent way too much, there’s another one that looks like crap.
The script has in its favor a premise absurd enough to make a passable MONTY PYTHON skit: animals are being mind-controlled by a vegetarian terrorist to help her take over the world. At 15 minutes, the idea could have worked decently enough. But as a full-length film it fails, perhaps because it doesn’t embrace the absurdity of the idea, trying to be a more conventional spy comedy/star vehicle, and the results are pretty limp.
I’m not sure why I thought this film even deserved to be mentioned in the same breath as Monty Python, but in any case, I was way off-base. The premise is crap. It’s horribly convoluted, and the film really doesn’t develop it (it never builds into anything), but even in short form it would’ve been forgettable, unless you went totally apeshit (pun moderately intended) with it.
Jonathan Reynolds wrote the actual script, and to his credit, he provides a couple of lines which, in context, are absurdly amusing, “Mango me!” being my personal favorite. And at the climax, Leonard attacks vegetarian foot-soldiers with burger patties, leaving one of them with a “USDA 100% CHOICE” brand on his chest–I admit, it was kind of funny. But the film rarely lets loose as, say, AIRPLANE! did, leaving us with a film that most of the participants seem embarrassed by, when they should have plunged into it with relish.
“I admit, it was kind of funny.”
Fuck you, old me.
Cosby’s performance, as superspy Leonard Parker, is unenthusiastic, and one must conclude that, if his lack of zest here wasn’t due to his recognition of the film’s quality, then it must be because the material just doesn’t fit him. But since the film was almost certainly his baby from the beginning, he has only himself to blame.
In the 70s, Cosby made a trilogy of films with Sidney Poitier (who directed all three): Uptown Saturday Night, Let’s Do It Again, and A Piece of the Action. They’re fun, funny little films (Let’s Do It Again is really quite strong; I need to rewatch and review this trilogy at some point), and Cosby is great in them. So clearly, he had some familiarity with funny films. If he’d been making his first real foray into cinema (The Cosby Show was in the midst of its run at this time), I might forgive him a little more, but no. He fucked up, big time.
Tom Courtenay, as Leonard’s butler Frayn, intermittently relishes the absurd context he is in, such as when he recites for Leonard a long string of inspirational speeches, hamming it up especially when he spoofs John Wayne. It’s not really funny, but Courtenay seems to be trying. Gloria Foster, as the vegetarian terrorist Medusa Johnson, seems most to embrace her role (she gets the line “Mango me!” and makes the most of it); it’s not a memorable role or anything, but Foster, like Courtenay, seems to be enjoying herself, and she’s kind of fun to watch.
Okay, Courtenay and Foster do have their moments, even if Courtenay is saddled with the gratuitous narration and seems well aware that he’s slumming it (just four years after his Oscar nomination for The Dresser). And yeah, “Mango me” is a good moment, though most of that is due to Foster’s wonderfully slinky, creamy voice. That reminds me, she was really good in The Angel Levine. I need to rewatch that, too.
Otherwise, the performances are poor. Joe Don Baker, as Leonard’s smarmy boss Snyderburn, falls flat; Victoria Rowell, as Leonard’s flighty daughter Joan, is tiresome, although there is a mildly funny scene where she appears in a play and strips onstage (no nudity is shown), to the horror of Leonard and her mother, Allison (Pat Colbert).
“Mildly funny”. Horseshit. It’s worth noting, though, that most of the supporting cast have very little to actually do–it’s almost all Cosby, Courtenay, and Foster.
Moses Gunn, sadly, plays Joan’s 66-year-old fiancee, Giorgio, who is apparently Italian; Gunn’s attempt at an accent is weak, and he seems generally embarrassed by his presence here. Colbert is flat as well, but Anna Levine is mildly amusing as the Albanian mystic Nurse Carvalho, essentially the Q to Leonard’s Bond.
KU alum Moses Gunn. That’s depressing. I’m not sure I’d say Levine is actually amusing, but I guess she’s okay. (Oh, apparently she was the brutalized prostitute in Unforgiven. I need to rewatch that. Anyway, I’m glad this didn’t destroy her career.)
The production values are decent, except for some conspicuously shitty special effects (which for all I know may have been intentional). Perhaps that was because the film seems primarily to have been funded by product placement: this is the film with the inexplicable mountain of Lava Soap boxes, with Leonard holding a Coke bottle so the label can be seen, with Leonard defeating the villain by throwing Alka-Seltzers–the label is clearly seen–into her giant chemical vats (every super-villain has them).
I doubt they were intentional. I just think no one cared. And those Lava boxes are fucking ridiculous.
LEONARD PART 6 isn’t good enough for straight entertainment or bad enough for bad-movie lovers,
Correction: unless you make an exception for bad comedies, have at it.
but curiosity seekers might find some value in the absurd touches, and if one’s acceptance of it is based on how it manages to not be as big a piece of shit as on (sic) expected it to be, then one must take what one can get.
Trust me, it’s a big a piece of shit as you’re expecting.
Besides, it has a team of killer frogs bouncing a car into a river. And a vicious rainbow trout. And that’s funny.
I’m such a fucking idiot.