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Leonard Part 6

When the idea of this project first presented itself, I knew that only covering the best films of 1987 wouldn’t be enough. As badly as I wanted to address the forgotten gems, the heralded masterpieces, the beloved franchise beginnings, and even the outdated relics, I knew that no examination of 1987 in film would be complete without addressing the year’s worst. And when I saw the most toxic shit that 1987 could offer, I knew that this project had to happen.

The worst films of 1987 aren’t just bad movies, they’re legends among bad movies. I’m talking about such turds as Jaws: The Revenge,¬†The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. I’m talking about titles that have been used as dirty jokes, vulgar insults, and vile curse words in the time since. This year offered some of the most notorious box office bombs in history, universally derided by critics and moviegoers alike for twenty-five years straight.

Yet even in such a fetid cesspool as this, I found two films from 1987 more infamous and putrid than the rest put together. Strangely enough, both of them were backed by Columbia Pictures, which was owned at the time by Coca-Cola. The soda company later spun off its entertainment holdings near the end of 1987, and outright sold the company to Sony a mere two years later. Yes, these two movies were so godawful that they sunk a major Hollywood studio. Never mind that Columbia had also distributed The Last Emperor, these two films sunk the studio so deep that not even a nine-time Oscar winner could save it.

One of these films was budgeted at $24 million (roughly $45.4 million, adjusting for inflation), and earned only $4.6 million worldwide. More than that, the film was nominated for five Golden Raspberry awards, going on to win Worst Picture, Worst Actor, and Worst Screenplay. Not only were all three Razzies among the very few that actually got accepted, but the film’s producer/writer/star specifically requested that the awards be made of 24-karat gold and Italian marble before receiving them on Fox’s “The Late Show.”

The producer/writer/star at hand was Bill Cosby, then at the absolute height of his game. And he knew the movie was shit. While doing the rounds to “promote” his film, Cosby told anyone who would listen not to waste their time and money on this movie. He was quick to shift blame onto first-time director Paul Weiland, however, claiming that he was too young and inexperienced to do the film right.

The film in question was of course Leonard Part 6.

In case you’re wondering, this movie is not part of any series. It was merely designed to give the impression of being part of a larger film serial, much like Star Wars: A New Hope or The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. In this case, we’re told that the previous five films have been withheld from public viewing for the sake of national security. You see, this film is an alleged spy parody.

Right off the bat, this movie has three strikes against it. Strike one is the opening credits scene, which looks like it was drawn and animated by a grade-schooler. Strike two is the brief montage of scenes from later in the movie, all of which look utterly ridiculous and nonsensical, despite the promise that it will all make sense later on. Strike three is the scene of a man getting killed by a rainbow trout. You heard me.

The premise concerns a maniacal group of vegetarians who threaten to take over the world by brainwashing various animals to become homicidal killing machines. Admittedly, it’s a premise that might have worked if it was presented with any amount of horror, comedy, or logic. In case you hadn’t guessed, all three are in nonexistent supply here.

Bill Cosby plays Leonard Parker, a retired CIA operative who’s called back into action to deal with the threat. Unfortunately, Leonard is hesitant to come back into the service for a variety of reasons. Firstly, the man is already extremely wealthy for whatever reason. Secondly, he’s eager to get his ex-wife back, after she left him seven years ago due to some affair with a nineteen-year-old. Thirdly, Leonard has a flighty young daughter set to make her stage debut, getting engaged to her 65-year-old director along the way.

Now that I’ve dispensed with the premise, let me be absolutely clear: This movie thoroughly deserves its reputation. This is a kind of awful for which I am scarcely equipped to review. I generally deal in nitpicks, pointing out particular aspects of a film that are worthy of mention, but trying that with this picture would be like taking nail clippers to a briar patch. Even before the first act is over, this film manages to do absolutely everything wrong.

I may as well start with the script. Cosby can blame the director all he wants for this stinker — and the director is surely due a great deal of blame, make no mistake — but Cosby co-wrote the script and it is horrendous. Not only is every single line of dialogue a clunker, but the plot has zero logic or surprises, and the characters barely deserve to be called as such.

There’s also the matter of the film’s pacing, which is so bad that Leonard doesn’t even start preparing for his mission until the end of the first act. Until that point, we’re treated to scenes of the aforementioned Parker family dysfunction. I didn’t bother to count the minutes spent on Leonard’s daughter and her stage career/love life, all of which amount to precisely jack. Hell, the film spends something like ten goddamn minutes on a montage of Leonard getting ready for a date with his ex. Why the filmmakers spent all of that time and effort on useless subplots when they could have been telling a story about impending global catastrophe, I have no idea.

I’d expect Bill Cosby to at least write decent jokes, but even that doesn’t work here. Any hope of comedy in this film was stillborn the moment that Cosby — very famously a comedian with humor suitable for all ages — decided to try parodying such an adult genre as the “James Bond” spy thriller. Without being able to parody Bond’s womanizing, alcoholic, and violent ways directly, Cosby was left floundering for want of story material, forced to throw everything he possibly could at the camera just to see what crap would stick.

To be fair, there are times when I can see what Cosby was going for. If he couldn’t explicitly show Leonard sleeping around, for example, he could show a vindictive wife who gives Leonard hell for such trysts. But then he goes and ruins it with a terrible “food fight” scene in addition to the aforementioned useless “preparing for a date” montage.

Another example: In the Bond films, Q provides weapons that would only be useful in the most contrived circumstances, which Bond inevitably and improbably runs into as the movie progresses. You’d almost think that Q is psychic. Well, Leonard gets his magical weapons from Nurse Carvalho, who is in fact a bona fide psychic. The problem is that the Nurse is completely unintelligible (yes, listening to her babble is supposed to count as comedy), and her scene is loaded with unnecessary slapstick. Thus, the satire is lost amid so many jokes that couldn’t even have looked good on paper.

As for the visuals, it should come as no surprise that they’re terrible. The action scenes are pathetic, the costume design is unforgivable, the camerawork is bland at best, and the effects are just absurd. Honest to God, there’s a scene in which people are supposedly attacked by bees, but they’re obviously being attacked by plain dirt getting thrown from offscreen.

Then there’s the product placement. If there’s any silver lining to this film, it’s that Leonard forced Hollywood to drastically reconsider its approach to product placement. The brand whoring in this film isn’t just overt, it’s insulting. Coca-Cola is a particularly egregious offender (unsurprising, given who owned Columbia at the time), but Adidas, Monarch bike helmets, Safeway, and Perrier are all on prominent display. The worst of it probably goes to Alka-Seltzer, however, since it’s their product that ultimately saves the day.

…Well, that and a handful of burger patties. Honest to God, the villains in this movie are scared off by meat. When the villains are dealt with so easily, what was the point of bringing a super-spy in to begin with?!

Even in terms of sound design, this movie is terrible. I didn’t think that an ’80s-era score from Elmer Bernstein could’ve been ruined, but this film found a way. If it isn’t the horrible public domain cues played for the sake of “comedy,” it’s the godawful use of sound effects throughout the film.

There is no parallel universe in which Leonard Part 6 could have worked. The story is bad. The dialogue is bad. The jokes are bad. The action is bad. The effects are bad. The editing is bad. The costumes are bad. The music is bad. The villains and their plan aren’t remotely scary. Every single aspect of this movie is absolutely wretched, right down to the overly tame Bill Cosby trying to pass himself off as a womanizing superspy. Even as a parody of one, there’s no way that ever could have worked.

Fortunately, the stars have fared relatively well in the aftermath. Bill Cosby’s status as a comedy legend has gone largely untarnished, though he hasn’t been working as much in the past few years. I’m sure it helped that Cosby was so upfront and apologetic about the film’s quality, even before it had been released.

Anna Levine, Tom Courtenay, Joe Don Baker, and Victoria Rowell all continue to have thriving careers as character actors. Even Moses Gunn got several acting credits to his name after Leonard, and he died of asthma complications only six years later! Gloria Foster has also passed on, dying of diabetes in 2001 partway through filming one of her popular turns as the Oracle of the Matrix series. As for Pat Colbert, I can’t find any sign of what she’s been doing since 1991. For all I know, she could be dead as well.

Best of all, the film’s crew never recovered from this disaster. Director Paul Weiland has only made a handful of other movies since, including such gems as City Slickers II and Made of Honor. As for co-writer Jonathan Reynolds, he only wrote another three totally insignificant movies before dropping off the radar completely in the ’90s. I don’t know where he went to, but I’m sure that movie lovers everywhere (myself included) wish that he had taken Leonard Part 6 into obscurity with him.

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