Leonard Part 6 (1987) (part 1 of 15)
Note from the author: This recap was updated July 11, 2010 with new screencaps and new snarky comments, thanks to the DVD release of Leonard Part 6, available now from Amazon.com!
In the mid-’80s, there were few stars in the comedy world bigger than Bill Cosby. He’d already been a well-known personality for decades, starring in I Spy, creating and voicing Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, releasing top-selling comedy records, and even sitting in for Johnny Carson on occasion. But it wasn’t until The Cosby Show became the highest rated TV series in America for three straight seasons that Cosby reached the echelons of superstardom. So it came as no surprise when he decided to parlay his newfound popularity into a starring role in his own big-screen, big-budget star vehicle.
Leonard Part 6 (and no, Parts 1 through 5 don’t exist; it’s a dumb joke that’s “explained” in the movie) certainly wasn’t Cosby’s first movie. Long before playing Heathcliff Huxtable, he appeared in modest films like Uptown Saturday Night (one of several opposite Sidney Poitier) and Mother, Jugs & Speed (opposite Harvey Keitel and another Agony Booth favorite, Raquel Welch).
But Leonard Part 6, his very first post-Cosby Show role, was a whole ‘nother story. The entire production was beholden to Cosby’s ego; Not only did he receive above-the-title billing, but he also served as producer and came up with the story. And thanks to his presence, money—much to the detriment of the finished product—was no object.
I’ll have plenty to say about the movie itself in due time, but for me, the really interesting thing about Leonard Part 6 is what Cosby did after the movie was finished. Despite being deeply involved with many aspects of the production, Cosby trashed this movie before it even came out. It was a disaster and he knew it, and every talk show appearance originally meant to plug the movie instead became an opportunity for Cosby to expressly warn people not to see it.
To no one’s surprise, the movie tanked, big time.
We recap a lot of bad movies here, but this is one of the first where the title of the movie is synonymous with “failure”. Movies like Armageddon and Moonraker are spectacularly bad, but they made a ton of money. Leonard Part 6, on the other hand, is a movie that at one time was often mentioned in the same breath as Heaven’s Gate, Waterworld, and Ishtar, movies that were such financial catastrophes that it took their respective studios years to recover, if ever.
In the case of Ishtar, the connection is even stronger, because both films were released by Columbia Pictures in those dark days when it was under Coca-Cola ownership.
In the ‘80s, product placement was seen as the Next Big Thing, particularly after Hershey reaped a massive windfall from putting Reese’s Pieces in a certain Steven Spielberg movie. Indulging in the usual corporate boneheaded “synergistic” thinking, Coca-Cola executives figured that if paying to put Coke products in movies was good for business, owning their own movie studio and getting free product placement would be even better! Right? Right?
The Coke execs quickly realized after Leonard and Ishtar stiffed (along with the shamefully brand name-stuffed Mac and Me) that making hit movies is a lot harder than marketing syrupy bubble water, and they got out of the game soon after. But this means that Leonard Part 6, one of the lasting testaments to this “synergy”, is packed so full of blatant product placements that all you can do is sit and stare in abject horror.
The sheer awfulness of this film is fascinating enough, but the fact that it’s got the most jacked-up cast since Myra Breckinridge is icing on the cake. Not only do we have Cosby, but also the late Gloria Foster, best known for playing the Oracle, and not only that, but we get one offender, two offenders, three Repeat Offenders! Ah-ah-ah! Joe Don Baker (Mitchell), Victoria Rowell (Barb Wire) and Grace Zabriskie (Armageddon) all make their second Agony Booth appearances here.
I have no idea how this movie did at test screenings, but I’m guessing it didn’t go over well, leaving the filmmakers to desperately pare the film down from “shockingly awful” to merely “embarrassingly bad”. For most movies that test poorly, this means keeping only the scenes that cost the most money. I can only assume that’s what happened in the case of this movie, because we spend nearly all of Leonard Part 6 bouncing from explosion to explosion, from special effect to special effect, with very little story to connect it all.
In theory, that doesn’t sound too bad, but in reality, Leonard Part 6 is almost as much of a relentless cacophony as Armageddon. Watching this movie is like watching a loud, obnoxious highlight reel of another, much longer, much more terrible movie that’s out there somewhere. Going on what little we’re shown here, I’m sort of relieved I’ll never know what the original cut was like.