Written by: Ron Bricker
Only one piece of pop culture has the distinction of being nominated twice for April Fools' Week: Bill Cosby's Leonard Part 6. A movie so bad that Cosby himself attempted to disown it, Lp6 sticks out like a thorn in Bill's resume, and no matter how hard he tries to live it down, it will never go away. In the first of two Leonard essays, Stella Artois imagines things that could have been done to elevate it from bad, to a guilty pleasure.
A word from the nominator, Big Ross:
I have a strange fascination with Leonard, Part 6. This movie was written and produced by its star, Bill Cosby, and made at the height of his commercial success (1987- during a time when a little series called The Cosby Show was dominating TV). You might think if he was granted complete creative control over his TV show (which he was) then he would have gotten much the same for this movie, yet he was evidently so disappointed with it not matching his vision that he publicly denounced it. I remember seeing this movie as a kid on HBO, and I think even then I didn’t quite get it. I remember there were parts I found funny, parts that were just silly, and parts that I didn’t understand at all. Several years ago I found a used copy in a video store, and those memories from my childhood had me intrigued. I bought it, took it home, and watched it, and I quickly discovered this could easily be one of the worst movies ever made. You might think it’s So Bad it’s Good, but it blurs past that and plunges deep into the realm of Just Plain Awful. Given this week’s theme, I thought it an appropriate time to share.
How Leonard Part 6 Could Have Been "So Bad, It's Brilliant"
by Stella Artois
The joke is on me. I normally like really bad movies. I find them hilarious, entertaining, and they turn my brain into mush in the best possible way. Leonard Part 6 however was so bad that I had no idea what to write about when the credits rolled, and I actually felt confused as to what I just witnessed (and violated. I also felt violated). This movie has already received every bad review possible since it was released (it even won three major Razzie Awards). Bill Cosby himself was also in agreement that it sucked hard-core, and even went on talk shows to denounce its very existence. So for me to rip Leonard Part 6 a new one, I’d be beating a dead horse (or ostrich, as you’ll soon see). My next approach was then going to be a satirical article, calling Leonard Part 6 an ‘epic comedy far beyond its time.” However, I really don’t have the time or mental capacity to make this work. Therefore, I have decided instead to dig deeply into my toolkit of brilliantly bad movies, and shell out a few simple solutions that could have made Leonard an awesomely bad 80s movie, destined to be a cult classic for generations to come.
But first, let’s just do a quick recap of Leonard. The title character Leonard Parker (Cosby) is a retired super-spy who is now living like a billionaire and managing his five-star restaurant. He gets called back in for duty because some crazy vegetarian named Medusa (Gloria Foster, The Oracle from The Matrix) is poisoning animals so that they’ll turn into ruthless killers and wipe out the entire super-spy population. Leonard, with the help of his butler Frayn (Tom Courtenay, Doctor Zhivago) and a really weird psychic named Nurse Carvalho (who I totally thought was Carol Kane at first, but it’s actually Anna Levine…whoever that is) puts on his ballet slippers and throws raw meat patties to battle the wicked Medusa and her team of avant-garde dancers dressed as wildlife. He then frees the animals, throws Alka-seltzer into the vat of poison, escapes the collapsing factory on an ostrich, and then sees his daughter strip in a play before getting back together with his wife. Fin!
I know it’s hard to believe with a story this inspired, but the movie actually plays on screen as incredibly stupid. But I know what Cosby and the makers of this movie were trying to do. They were definitely trying to produce a “So Bad, It’s Brilliant” project. Why else would all of the characters take themselves so seriously given with such a retarded script, and why else would the set design and special effects be hammy and weakly produced? These are both given signs of a terrible movie that ends up being stellar! But, they were missing a few key ingredients.
Here is how I would have spiced this ham up!
1) Bizarre-o Factor
In any movie that is poking fun at traditionally serious topics (in Leonard’s case: spies saving the world from mass-destruction) you need to go overboard in character development. For example, in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, those villains were cartoonish and wacky, and so was the protagonist spy Austin. However in Leonard, Cosby played it straight to the point where it seemed he was mumbling his lines from a teleprompter for the first time. There was no character to him at all! Then you have the wicked vegetarian Medusa…did anyone else notice that she was nothing more than Cruella DeVille reincarnated? (There was even a major stampede of Dalmatians at the end to hammer the similarity home.) The movie needed more cheese like this, but she was so over the top compared to everyone else that I actually felt bad for her.
Here is how these characters could have made the movie better, with a little help from the Bizarre-o Factor!
-Cosby should not have made Leonard a boring, mumbling, characterless drone. He should have talked in the Jell-O Puddin’ voice the whole time. Case closed. I would have peed my pants and told all my friends about it.
-While I laughed at the Dalmatian stampede and Cruella similarities, Medusa should have actually been a wicked vegetarian HIPPY with a name like Dame Dandelion who shoots sharp bamboo out of her dreads when she is attacking the innocent. Also, the whole vegetarian thing kind of made no sense because she caged up the animals in her hideout (which was a factory called International Tuna for some reason). Would a veggie really cage and poison animals so that they kill people? But then again what’s funnier…a crazed pelican killing people or a psychotic cabbage? Tough call!
-Carol Kane should have just played the character of Nurse Carvalho instead of her look-alike. She could have played it like her character in Scrooged. Tell me that wouldn’t have ruled!
2) A little music goes a long way!
That’s right folks. I’m talking Leonard Part 6: The Musical! What I would have given for a few song and dance numbers between Leonard and his fancy butler. I mean, they already put him in ballet slippers and had him dance his way to victory. Why not add a few show tunes to jazz up the 80s montages?
3) More Nuttier Animals
The whole point of Leonard going back into the spy-business was due to the fact that animals were terrorizing the spy-world. So why did we only get to see a killer piranha, some evil bunny rabbits, and a very odd shot of a zebra running through a deserted warehouse? They mentioned a deadly squirrel in a news broadcast and god damn it I wanted to see that crazy little fucker! And why pray tell did Medusa meet her demise by getting caved in by bricks and not eaten by one of her own animal freaks? Like the zebra? Or maybe the armadillo! Listen up, future filmmakers: bad guys getting eaten by cute critters is CINEMATIC GOLD!
4) Self-conscious Corporate Tie-Ins
I don’t care how much they paid, Alka-seltzer should NOT have been the antidote to the poison. It should have been a Jell-O Puddin' Pop or NOTHING AT ALL. To make it even better, Leonard should have yodeled and pursed his lips when he defeated the evil hippy Dame Dandelion, and said something patently Cosby-like, such as “You’ve just been weed-whacked Dandy. Yodel-Ay-Ee-Oooo!
All of these ridiculous little things could have been the added details necessary for Leonard Part 6 to be given the prestigious title “So Bad, It’s Brilliant!” However, it’s in the can and I am now dumber than I was before I hit “play.” What a waste.