Directed by Paul Weiland. Screenplay by Jonathan Reynolds, story by Bill Cosby. Produced by Bill Cosby. Music by Elmer Bernstein. Photographed by Jan de Bont. Edited by Gerry Hambling. Production designed by Geoffrey Kirkland. Starring Bill Cosby, Tom Courtenay, Joe Don Baker, Moses Gunn, Pat Colbert, Gloria Foster, Victoria Rowell.
50 QUESTIONS ABOUT LEONARD, PART 6
1. What is Leonard, Part 6?
A 1987 action comedy that is one of the worst films ever made.
2. Who is in Leonard, Part 6?
Bill Cosby, one of the superstars of comedy of the twentieth century. Also stars Tom Courtneay, Pat Colbert, Gloria Floster, Victoria Rowell and Joe Dan Baker. Yes, Mitchell!
3. Who else was talented and contributed to Leonard, Part 6?
Composer Elmer Bernstein (The Ten Commandments, The Magnificent Seven, Airplane!, Ghostbusters, Far From Heaven). Director of Photography Jan de Bont (DP for Die Hard, The Hunt for Red October and Basic Instinct, and directed Speed). Production designer Geoffrey Kirkland (Midnight Express, The Right Stuff, Mississippi Burning, Angela’s Ashes, Children of Men). And Cosby produced and co-wrote the story, so there’s that.
4. What is Leonard, Part 6 about?
Cosby plays Leonard, a former (and famous) CIA spy who has abruptly retired after a long and distinguished career as a master secret agent. (There is no Leonard, Parts 1-5, by the way. The movie explains this by teasing us with the idea that they do exist, but have been sealed away in a vault in the interests of national security.) Leonard is pulled back into service…eventually…in order to stop the evil vegetarian Medusa (Foster, playing Eartha Kitt). Medusa and her group are evil. “Death to all mankind!” is their rally cry, which seems rather self-defeating. Their plan is to brainwash the entire animal kingdom and transform them into vicious monsters: killer frogs, evil frogs, murderous ponies, etc. Lots of animals, all shapes and sizes. There are no turkeys in the film, though, perhaps because it would be redundant.
Leonard also has to repair the fractured relationship with his wife Allison (Colbert) and daughter Joan (Rowell). And also, he must sell a great many Coke Products, because Leonard, Part 6 was made in those dark times when Columbia Pictures was owned by the Coca-Cola Company, leading to some scenes here that feature the most hideous product placement you’ve ever seen.
5. Why would someone wish to watch Leonard, Part 6?
I do not know.
6. Why is this movie considered so bad?
Because it’s inept. Incompetent. A waste. Idiotic. Dull. Repetitive. Labored. Padded. Painful. And at only 85 minutes, endless. At every turn, it violates basic comic principles. It’s the kind of movie where you picture the filmmakers pleased as punch with how they cut the film together, not because it is good, but because it proves they can operate an editing machine on the most rudimentary level. It’s the kind of movie that breaks its own reality as often as possible to tell a joke, and those jokes aren’t funny. It’s the kind of movie where Leonard spends minutes firing heavy artillery against a fortified door and, against all laws of physics, it refuses to fall down. Ha ha. Ho ho. Hee hee.
7. Woah, woah. Slow down, Egghead. Violating comic principles…What do you mean?
Leonard, Part 6 is visibly trying to be funny, which is a mistake. It doesn’t conceal, it doesn’t apply any artistry to its humor—the jokes just appear and are left hanging there, because they’re naturally funny, right? Well, no. Because a joke that is trying to be funny—that is insisting on itself as funny is actually not funny at all. In a comic universe, there has to be an underlining logic—a sensible underpinning that informs the action, and gives it a baseline to play against ironically. Let’s take one of the most famous comedies of all time, Some Like it Hot, which has Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis on the run, disguising themselves in drag and joining an all-girl group. They look silly. Is that what’s funny? No. What’s funny is that they are so desperate and serious that they are forced to put up with the fact that they look silly. That’s real comedy.
8. Go back to that whole “incompetent” thing.
Oh, it’s a mess. The special effects are shockingly poor. The direction is lifeless, the humor flaccid. The acting generally veers between annoyingly demonstrative (Foster’s scheming vamp) and wide-eyed “this is my first role” earnestness. Our hopes for a movie that will make a lick of sense are dashed early when a frenzied trout snaps like a pit bull (underwater!), and then takes the time on his trip down a water pipe to turn around and gaze at a Playboy magazine cover, replete with the “screeching tire” sound effect. And then he attacks a CIA agent who is having fun in a pool, and the agent’s female companion is so stupid, she doesn’t seem to notice that the man two feet away from her is being eaten alive by carnivorous trout. She simply sees the churning water and smiles and shouts “Quincy, stop splashing!” Jokes about women who do not notice the men in their lives dying horribly are so incredibly funny.
9. Are there any jokes in the movie that work?
(a) Tom Courtneay plays Manservant Frayn, Robin to Leonard’s Batman. The Englishman has enough class to really sell a reflective line like: “This was, I believe, the first recorded instance of a CIA agent being eaten alive by a rainbow trout.”
(b) I actually like the gag of Cosby’s butler narrating the discomfiting car ride over to his wife’s house, which is literally half a block away.
(c) People trip on an offscreen corpse, and then shout his name disapprovingly. That’s kinda funny.
10. What doesn’t work?
Everything else. Everything. The leaden pace, the dopey jokes, the horrid Peter Gunn-wannabe score, the ridiculous plot, the fact that it feels five hours long, the Jane Fonda cameo—everything.
11. Okay, I’m watching the movie. Why does it start with a montage of random scenes, like cars jumping over hills and Cosby in an army uniform dancing a ballet? And why does it climax with Leonard riding an ostrich off an exploding factory roof, then being magically transformed into a Claymation puppet that looks like the next door neighbor of the California Raisins?
Perhaps you don’t remember. The California Raisins were very popular at the time, almost as well-renowned as Jell-O and Kodak film. As far as the device being used here, this is an attempt to grab you, hereby called the, erm, “grabber.” You see, by splicing random scenes in the beginning of this confusing movie, including its ending, the film will attempt to convince you it has a quicker wit and more spritely pace then it actually does. Do not be fooled.
12. Is the restaurant scene a good example of the “violation of comic principles” thing you were talking about earlier?
It is! There’s a scene early on in Leonard, Part 6 that shows exactly what I’m talking about. At his San Francisco restaurant, Leonard is visited by the secret agent Madison (George Maguire), who despite working for the CIA and therefore on the same side as Leonard, and despite being ordered to retrieve Leonard, actually decides to kill Leonard instead. Monroe has been served trout for dinner, and when he asks Leonard to see the kitchen’s trout tank, he pulls his gun and says “this is not about trout.” (DUN DUN.) Leonard’s response? Can you think of the most sitcomish, juvenile thing he could say? I’m sure you can. You ready? Here it is: “Maybe you’d prefer the flounder.” Because that is exactly what a threatened person would say. Ba dum bum.
So then a gunfight breaks out in the middle of the kitchen of a four-star restaurant…and none of the chefs run out of the room, or duck, or anything. In fact, they all seem positively ecstatic that this is happening, because in the chaos of the shootout, all these funny accidents occur that are simpatico with the needs of the kitchen—coffee beans dump into a grinder, parsley falls in a stew, etc. So the joke, is, of course, that these guys are unfazed by the gunplay, which doesn’t make sense at all—in other words, they’re not people, they’re props. That doesn’t work, because it’s completely unmotivated comedy. Now if Leonard had been established as a taskmaster who would fire them if they left no matter what, or if the chefs were shown to be unnaturally obsessed with their work, that could possibly function. But comedy without character is just people being goofy for no reason; it reveals itself as artifice, and artifice is not funny, because there are no stakes.
Here’s another example: towards the end of the movie, Cosby and his wife have a heartfelt “let’s tie up the romantic loose ends” scene, with him standing underneath a leaky pipe spewing a stream of water. So they’re having a dramatic moment while the water dribbles down his forehead, sloshing in his mouth and down his chin, so he sounds exactly like that record of his where he goes to visit the dentist. But the leak is not that large; he could just step out of the way and avoid the water. Why doesn’t he? I mean…he chooses to stand under the leak and then say the line “If I sabbbve the wrbbbld, will you mbbbve bbbbck in wbb mee? Allrbbbight!” Why? And why is that funny, if we don’t know why he’s doing what he’s doing? Comedy lives in the tension between nonsense and the logic we attempt to apply to it, and being subtly informed as a viewer that there is no logic at all to be applied is absolutely deadly.
13. Gee, thanks for the long speech. Sigh. So, jumping back, Leonard is asked to return to the CIA…
Yeah. Which, as we all know, is a tiny office with poor security and features about twelve guys hunched over a table. Oh, and it’s headquarters are in San Francisco, too, apparently. Joe Don Baker plays the CIA head, so the world really is doomed. Leonard is given all the details on the case, and the narrator explains there is no reason why he would say “no.” But he does say “no,” and then we spend the next thirty minutes watching as Leonard blubbers about his family life—first telling his daughter to call of her May-December romance with an septuagenarian Italian theater director named Giorgio (Moses Gunn), and then trying to rekindle a relationship with his wife, separated of seven years.
14. Oh, I love spy comedies that have no spying in them for the first half hour.
Me too. I genuinely enjoy it when a movie steps outside of its story, and has a character turn down an opportunity to the thing we know the movie is about, so that instead we can noodle around with immaterial plot points, as if the screenwriter has literally forgotten what the story is supposed to be.
15. Gimme more of the plot.
There’s not that much. Cosby putters around his house, and then, 80’s music video style, prepares for a reconciliation-flavored rendezvous with his wife. When that fails, he goes back into the action for the CIA, going up against the evil Medusa in two extended sequences set inside your standard-issue enemy factory/stronghold: lots of steam, sparks, computers, dim lighting, fog machines, catwalks, etc. Leonard’s goal is to recover a metal sphere that holds the chemicals that Medusa plans to release into the San Francisco Bay, so he gets the sphere, and then has to return it when his wife is kidnapped.
Meanwhile, there’s time for more pointless interludes involving gypsies, enchanted hamburger patties, and community theater faux-Tennessee Williams productions, in which Leonard’s daughter strips nude on stage. How does Leonard react? Well it kinda goes hand-in-hand with your next question.
16. What is the cheapest form of humor?
Why it’s the comedic eye-roll, of course, perhaps the laziest crutch there is for a director to emphasize that what a character just said or did is RIDICULOUS, get it?! Cosby performs an expressive eye-roll somewhere between 20-25 times over the course of the film. Maybe more, because some over the over-elaborate ones could potentially be counted twice.
17. When Joan (who looks quite a lot like Lisa Bonet) describes her play, she says “I’m so excited for this, daddy. I just know it’s going to make me a star.” Cosby then rolls his eyes at the very idea that the woman before him could ever be a successful actress. Is this actually a brilliant piece of meta humor?
No. The film is not that clever. That’s eye-roll #5, by the way, for those keeping score at home.
18. So there’s this scene where Leonard, talking dramatically to his daughter, gestures wildly with a Coke bottle in his hand. Then the camera shows both of them on the couch, and Cosby drapes his arm over the couch and puts the Coke bottle right square in the middle of the frame, with the label facing us, and continues to talk, even though it looks like the most awkward possible way to conduct a serious father-daughter conversation. Why did they do that?
Well…um…did it make you feel like buying a refreshing Coca-Cola product?
19. Well, yeah, actually, it did, but…hey! Wait a minute! And was that New Coke he had in his hand?
No, I think it was the original formula. Bill’s not a sell-out, or anything. Geez.
Did you also notice in the kitchen scene there is a refrigerator stocked entirely with Coke? That could almost be funny, if it were playing off of Cosby’s identity as a Coke pitchman (he loves soda so much he has to have a stash of it hidden in his busy kitchen!). See, now that I have explained that potential joke, it is no longer funny, which means it is now deemed right at home within the anarchy of Leonard, Part 6.
20. Did Palmolive also try for product placement? Because there’s that whole sequence where Leonard tries to replace the chemicals in the sphere with dishwashing liquid, and it doesn’t ever pay off. Like, at all. It’s a meaningless waste of time.
What can I say? The movie is a fan of time-wasting. It was the 80’s! Lots of conspicuous consumption, even when it came to movie runtimes.
They do make sure we notice it’s Palmolive, though, don’t they? What purpose does that serve to the company on a marketing level? “Palmolive is the preferred dishwashing liquid of both bumbling spies and crappy films!”
21. Describe Cosby’s acting in Leonard, Part 6.
He looks bored. Even when he is briefed about the plot that could end the world, he looks bored. He displays all the telltale signs of an actor who knows he is in a disaster, and resents it. Cosby displayed on TV and LP had a great sense of comic timing (seriously go listen to some of his classic material like Revenge or Himself—you won’t be sorry). But here, just like in the comedic misfire Ghost Dad, he is bitter and adrift, consciously aware that he is failing to inject life into flat material.
Do you remember that Jerry Seinfeld routine where he explained he was afraid to make an expensive movie, because in the middle of one he might get distracted, start addressing the audience and apologize for the film sucking? I guarantee you one of the examples he had in his head of this phenomenon was Leonard, Part 6.
22. Why does the camera get all creepy when introducing Leonard’s wife?
I do not know. During this scene, Allison’s face is half-off screen, as if the film is preparing a surprise for us about her identity. Like maybe she’s a spy or under a spell or in actuality Fat Albert, or something. But nothing ever comes of it. I’ll give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt and assume that they did this for no reason, rather than accept the overwhelming evidence that perhaps this is an incompetently told joke.
23. Was every 80’s comedy required to have a montage sequence accompanied by a Peabo Bryson song?
Perhaps you don’t remember. Peabo Bryson was very popular at the time.
24. During the montage, we see Bill Cosby in a midriff. Why was that necessary? And why does Leonard’s Jane Fonda exercise tape address him by name and admonish him for not being able to “get it up?”
These are all very good questions.
25. During the montage, there’s a running gag of Frayn trying to help Leonard pick out a tie from hundreds and hundreds of ties, and in the end, Leonard picks…a purple one. Why is that a punchline?
It isn’t. It’s a fairly nice tie, and therefore the expected punchline (ha ha, after all that he picked out an UGLY tie!) is subverted into a non-event, and there isn’t even a point made about the fact that there’s no punchline. Very subtly, this entire scene becomes a master class in how not to end a joke. It’s actually quite profound, if you think about it.
26. Leonard visits his wife’s house, where she uses their dinner as a pretense to spill food all over him. Why would she do this, when he called for the very legitimate reason of discussing the future of their daughter, whom they are both established as being very concerned about?
Because it is a joke. Did you not know that in real life, instead of behaving like mature people, most rich sophisticates prefer to twist themselves into mean-spirited caricatures and conduct their behavior in ways that operate on no recognizable level of reality?
27. Did that gypsy woman who Leonard visits tell Carol Kane she was going to borrow her looks and routine?
Probably not. This same year, Carol Kane made her own cameo in The Princess Bride. I think we can safely say she won out on that one.
28. Why does Leonard’s helmet read “Ipso Facto”?
Good question! Ipso facto is Latin, and it means “by the fact itself.” In other words, it means that a certain effect is a direct consequence of an action in question. Example: Opium-smoking, chronically depressed hyenas got together to make a movie. Ipso facto: Leonard, Part 6.
29. What’s the deal with the giant cartoon bullets that come out of Leonard’s modified Porsche?
Dummy, Leonard, Part 6 takes place in a universe where heavy weaponry fires cartoon bullets. Take it or leave it.
30. During one scene in Medusa’s lair, Leonard is attacked by a squadron of dancers that wear animal heads. Leonard must defend himself by using a magical pair of ballet shoes. So they prance around in a very very very extended dance sequence.
32. I have mixed feelings about this.
33. Well, I feel angry. And embarrassed and confused.
Let’s take a break. Get something to drink, use the bathroom. Go.
35. Alright. I’m back. F this movie.
36. Is there a more pathetic way to mine comedy than to play scenes of mayhem against a soundtrack of classical music, such as this film’s usage of the 1812 Overture, The Nutcracker Suite, Theme from Romeo & Juliet, etc. during moments of violence?
No. No, there is not.
37. And why the cheerful Three Men and a Baby-style music during the operation scene when Frayn extracts a bullet from Leonard’s chest?
Perhaps you don’t remember. Three Men and a Baby was a very popular film at the time.
38. And backstage at Joan’s play, there are hundreds and hundreds of Lava Soap boxes piled high on a table. Why would a community theater group go through hundreds—and I mean hundreds—of bars of soap in one night? And why wouldn’t they throw out the boxes? Or have they not used them yet, and they’re simply storing the soap? But why then would they be on a table when instead they could be in a cupboard somewhere? Are you sure this is the same guy who did the brilliant production design for Children of Men?
Perhaps you don’t remember. Lava was a very popular soap at the time.
39. Why does Joan expect her parents to be pleased about her going full-frontal during her big acting break?
Because Joan is a moron and thinks this will jump-start her career. She does not realize that the actual way to become famous without talent is to do several twee Disney Channel films, release a heavily Auto-Tuned debut album, cultivate an alcohol and meth addiction, pose for candid photos in her underwear that get “accidentally leaked,” do a tasteful-but-exploitative nude photo spread, and then enter rehab under a cloud of pregnancy rumors, in that order. In her defense, it was a very different era.
40. How does the subplot about the deeply annoying director Giorgio resolve itself?
It doesn’t. He just disappears after one additional scene. What a well-written script.
41. How much money would you give to be able to discover what Joe Don Baker’s private thoughts were during the scene where he gets attacked by a killer bunny rabbit puppet?
I would be willing to pay his liquor bill for at least ten days. That doesn’t sound like much time, but trust me–it is a lot of liquor.
42. Let’s talk about Medusa. Her plot is to take over the world by turning the animal kingdom against man. Why would a vegetarian be comfortable with exploiting thousands of animals to do her bidding?
Because if she really cared about animals, she would be a vegan. Duh.
43. So the villain is called Medusa, and yet there are no evil snakes in the film?
You’re right. Fix this and the movie is saved.
44. What’s the deal with Medusa’s husband Andy (Hal Bokar), who does nothing but sit in a wheelchair and just say “Kill him [Leonard]!” over and over?
Because disabled people are funny. Didn’t you know that? Also, they were very popular at the time.
45. How does it end?
Leonard saves the world by using his fists, a stick of butter, and magic meat, resulting in far too many scenes of Cosby jumping around telling henchmen to have some of his meat. One guy gets thrown into a vat of chemicals and is boiled alive when Leonard drops in two Alka-Seltzers. For a huge vat. Plop plop fizz fizz, oh what a bad scene it is.
Medusa gets bitch-slapped by Allison, because it is bad form for a man to hit a woman in an action film. (Batman has the same problem with Poison Ivy.) And so they all escape and Leonard jumps on an ostrich and the animals get free and lots of chemicals spill out onto the street and the family reconciles and I think the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man shows up, and then Leonard and Allison go out to a nice dinner, where they’re all very lovey dovey, and then he gives her permission to pour soup on his jacket, because Bill Cosby is into that kind of thing, I guess…I really don’t want to know. The End. Stay tuned for Leonard Part 7.
46. Pick a line from the movie that best illustrates its contempt for the audience.
When Leonard, bringing back the MacGuffin Sphere to Medusa at the beginning of the third act, undermines the film’s meager stakes by reading the following line like a he’s asking for a refund at CVS: “Can I have my wife back, please?”
Or, maybe it’s when a CIA analyst explains that Medusa’s plot will control the mind of “every animal, fish, bird, reptile, and insect on this globe!“ Apparently reptiles and fish aren’t animals, which would be news to reptiles and fish.
47. Locate the movie’s comic nadir.
When a brainwashed lobster slowly inches towards a rear projection of Leonard’s crotch, and Leonard makes pained expressions.
No, wait. It’s the closing moment where Allison pours tons of pasta on poor Bill Cosby’s head.
No, wait. It’s when Joan comes out for her curtain call, still nude.
No, wait. It’s the early moment where Leonard drives his Porsche over a hill and it goes flying into the air–and we cut inside to his barely-interested face. Get it? Because it’s a fast action scene, and he’s bored!
Or maybe when Leonard slaps the magic hamburger patties on people’s heads, but one henchman declares “I’m not afraid of meat!”
Oh, and the Claymation puppet shows up again.
Well, there is that moment where Medusa throws Leonard and his wife in a dungeon and then screeches “Tacky tacky wifey!”
You know, the magic ballet shoes are pretty bad.
Can I get back to you?
48. Is it better or worse than Ghost Dad (1990)?
It is worse, much worse. Keep in mind, however, that no human being should ever want to be capable of answering that question.
49. Did Cosby really go on talk shows and tell people not to go see Leonard, Part 6? How did that affect the box office?
Perhaps you don’t remember. Leonard, Part 6 was not a very popular film at the time.
50. Seriously. Why would someone wish to watch Leonard, Part 6?
Seriously. I do not know.
PREVIOUS TIME PERIOD: 1979 – Alien
NOTES: Thank you to my friend Kevin Regan for suggesting this post.