Ishtar, for example, was dead in the water earlier this year, long before it appeared in a theater near you. And it wasn’t really that bad.
Now, another film from Columbia Pictures has been attracting a similar kind of negative buzz. Bill Cosby’s Leonard Part 6 has been the source of much insider groaning lately, and even Cosby has been distancing himself from the film. It will be interesting to see whether Leonard opens to weak business, or if Cosby’s popularity carries it through its first weekend.
The movie isn’t quite the unmitigated disaster it’s been rumored to be. It isn’t completely incoherent, and it mercifully contains only one obnoxious plug for Coca-Cola (Cosby’s frequent employer and the owner of Columbia Pictures).
It is, however, a bore. Cosby, who once starred with Robert Culp in “I Spy,” here plays Leonard, an ex-spy; rich and retired, Leonard spends his days showering in Perrier water. Little does he know, he’s about to become the spy who came in from the shtick. The CIA chief (Joe Don Baker) calls Leonard back to service to help topple a power-hungry villain who plots to rule the world by unleashing a horde of malevolent animals.
Aside from the fate of the world hanging in the balance, Leonard has his own problems. His wife, for instance, who hasn’t returned his phone calls for seven years. Not to mention a teenage daughter whose performance in a stage play includes removing her clothes. Needless to say, doffed duds don’t delight Dad.
So, some parts of Leonard—the better parts—deal with the nutty family material. Which is, after all, the territory Cosby has parlayed into America’s most popular television series. Maybe if he’d stayed close to where his heart is, a decent movie might have resulted.
But the spy stuff, which makes you nostalgic for Robert Culp, is weird business. It verges on surrealism when the animals are finally turned into killers, as with the attack of the crazed rainbow trout, and a lobster assault that is repulsed with melted butter.
And there is a scene of killer rabbits, which have been absent from the headlines since the 1980s, when Monty Python and the Holy Grail explored the problem and Jimmy Carter fought one off while in his dinghy.
You can’t exactly fault director Paul Weiland; the film is based on a bad idea from the beginning (Cosby is credited with the story, and he also produced). Leonard is narrated by the hero’s butler (Tom Courtenay, who at one point and for no good reason gets to do an obscure and wicked impression of Laurence Olivier’s Richard III); the butler informs us that the previous five adventures involving Leonard had to be confiscated in the interest of national security. (Thus Part 6.)
If this new adventure were confiscated, it might be in everyone’s best interests—particularly those of Bill Cosby, who’s perfectly right to be embarrassed.
First published in the Herald, December 19, 1987
Columbia in the 1980s: a very peculiar time. Nothing good can come from further discussion of this film.