Running Time: 85 minutes.
Tag-line: "His daughter is engaged to a man old enough to be his father. His estranged wife behaves like she is younger than their daughter. And now his government has asked him to save the world. Again."
Notable Cast or Crew: Bill Cosby, Tom Courtenay (BILLY LIAR, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO), Joe Don Baker (THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, CAPE FEAR '91), Moses Gunn (SHAFT, FIRESTARTER, THE NEVERENDING STORY), Gloria Foster (NOTHING BUT A MAN, THE MATRIX), Anna Levine (UNFORGIVEN, TRUE ROMANCE), Grace Zabriskie (TWIN PEAKS, WILD AT HEART), Victoria Rowell (THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS, HERMAN'S HEAD).
About fifteen years ago, I started to really get into "so bad they're good" movies from the 1980s and began to research the canon in earnest. I assembled a "to-see" list that grew with more and more titles each year, though I still have the original short-list. It's filled with films that have become personal favorites, like TROLL 2, CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC, THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS: THE MOVIE, REVENGE OF THE NINJA, THE APPLE, and DEATH WISH 3; plus loads of others that have fascinated and entertained, like MAC AND ME, MOONWALKER, and HOWARD THE DUCK. I went back to the list last month and saw that I had crossed off every title: except for... LEONARD PART 6.
This week, against my better judgment, I finally saw it. Imagine the scene from PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE, when Pee-Wee is saving the animals from the burning pet store. Each time he goes back in, he sees the snakes, wrinkles his nose, and moves on to a different animal. But eventually he must grab the snakes. They're the last animal he saves, and, screaming, he emerges from the pet store and collapses on the ground, fists full of snakes. That's LEONARD PART 6 in a nutshell.
LEONARD PART 6––conceived, co-written, produced by and starring Bill Cosby at the height of his fame and power––is a glimpse into a disjointed, agitated mind, and like how MOONWALKER reveals a bizarre slice of Michael Jackson's soul, or how THE ROOM shows us Tommy Wiseau's, or how HAUSU shows us Nobuhiko Obayashi's, it is similarly illuminating. However, the major difference is these latter three films function as entertainment––unhinged, mind-blowing, spit-take-inducing entertainment, but entertainment nonetheless. LEONARD PART 6 is not entertainment. It's an echo chamber, an optical illusion, a complex delusion, a tower of self-congratulating sanctimony, built, brick by brick, on the backs of sycophants and yes men. I exclaimed aloud at several points, "Was this even made by human beings?"
Ostensibly, LEONARD PART 6 is the sixth film in a fictitious, James-Bond-style series; a spoof of secret agent films, populated by groan-inducing non-sequiturs and a peculiar, enduring sense of self-importance. It builds cartoonish villains out of animal rights activists/vegetarians and has the gall to possess a superior, priggish attitude toward female nudity (is this a reference to Lisa Bonet's appearing in ANGEL HEART against Cosby's wishes?).
The first image is a cartoon rabbit accompanied by the demonic giggling of a little girl (?)
and one of the last is a stop-motion Bill Cosby riding an ostrich away from an enormous explosion.
The film is certain that both of these are some of the funniest images committed to celluloid. There is a sureness––Cosby's conviction in his own genius––that shines throughout, and this would make the film a vaguely skin-crawling experience even if we didn't grasp the entirety of his character. It's clearly the work of someone who exists in complete disconnect from reality, and none of his calculated reactions to its failure (disavowing it on the late-nite talk show circuit, accepting the Razzies but only when they were marbled and gold-plated, blaming the director, buying the television rights so no one else could ever show it) can dispel this nearly Caligula-esque notion that he is a god of entertainment, and that the movie-going public are supporting figures in his fantasy, a chorus of cardboard cut-outs that exist to worship Cosby, and only worship.
Pictured: evidence for the above sentiment.
There's really not much more to say, but I have a few quick observations, some of which shed light on the Cosby psyche:
#1. Legendary character actors Grace Zabriskie and Joe Don Baker briefly appear as CIA higher-ups in a smoke-filled room.
They survive the proceedings with most of their dignity intact, even when Grace must say a line like "How do we strike back against ferocious fish?" A friend of mine lamented that Grace and Joe Don never got the chance to do WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, and I have to wholeheartedly agree.
#2. What is "an executive producer for Mr. Cosby?"
This credit is not listed on IMDb. Cosby himself is listed as "Producer" in the same stretch of credits; and Steve Sohmer was the then-President and CEO of Columbia Pictures. Did Cosby insist on this bizarre, self-aggrandizing credit because he didn't want audiences to perceive that anyone outranked him?
#3. Cosby, as a restaurant owner, going out of his way and beyond his job description to personally mix and pour a parfait dessert-drink for a female patron. Ugh.
#4. Cosby sneaking out of a woman's home while she lays in the background, comatose.
#5. Cosby using a queen bee as a sexual tool to distract a roomful of killer drones. He begins by mumbling to her, "All right, lady, you get in there and show 'em your garter."
He unleashes the queen, and lasciviously whispers, "Don't mind if I look, do you?"
And proceeds, for an uncomfortable span, to make kissy-lips and buzzing noises. I would argue that this would be just as creepy if I'd seen this for the first time in 1987.
#6. The set-up for Leonard's personal life is that his wife left him years ago over a "hilarious" incident where he was found with a nude nineteen-year-old girl, beating her with a birch branch. It's unclear if she was conscious at the time. He has the following exchange with his loyal butler (the brilliant Tom Courtenay, who didn't deserve this):
Look at the expressions that play across Cosby's face. One wonders if similar, rationalizing exchanges with the help have transpired in real life.