For every George Clooney who makes the transition from a successful TV career to a successful film career, there are a hundred Bill Cosbys who never manage to do anything other than star in self-titled TV shows and associate themselves with Jell-O Pudding Pops — a nice consolation prize, sure, but does it really compensate for embarrassments like “Leonard Part 6”? I hold that it does not.
“Leonard Part 6” was one of Cosby’s few attempts at film stardom, and it’s easy to see why he didn’t try very hard thereafter. I barely had the strength to go on living after watching it; I can only imagine how draining it was to be responsible for it. And Cosby was responsible, too. He conceived the film’s story and served as its producer, and his longtime status as Coca-Cola spokesman probably explains why there’s so much Coke product placement in the movie. His effort to hold a Coke bottle at just the right angle so it’s centered in the frame and has the label showing, all while pretending he’s doing it casually, is a reminder of his limitations as an actor.
Cosby plays Leonard Parker, a CIA agent who retired seven years ago and now runs the most successful swanky restaurant in San Francisco. Like most retired government employees, he is a millionaire. (Wait, what?) The CIA needs him back, though, because an evil villainess named Medusa Johnson (Gloria Foster) is planning to take over the world by sending specially trained animals to attack people. She already sent a growling rainbow trout to kill a CIA agent in his swimming pool. Yes, really. Yes, it’s weird. No, it’s not funny. Please, hold your questions until the end.
The CIA is led by Joe Don Baker, which explains a lot of its problems. It is he who insists Leonard is the only one who can stop Medusa. He says this to a room full of other CIA operatives. How do you think that makes them feel? Joe Don Baker should be more considerate of people’s feelings, that’s all I’m saying. To convince Leonard to come back, Joe Don Baker sends an assassin to try to kill him, figuring that if the hitman fails, it will prove Leonard really is America’s best agent. I hope Joe Don Baker never wants to recruit me for something! (Actually, I have always had the vague inkling that this was my position, but not until now have I fully understood why.)
Leonard survives the assassin’s attack, but I don’t know if that really proves anything. If the CIA is so incompetent that it has to call in long-retired agents just to deal with one trout-wielding lunatic, how can we expect them to be any good at assassinations? The guy they sent really was mediocre, too, so for all we know Leonard could be only slightly better than mediocre. Of course, he could also be only slightly better than mediocre and still be the best agent in the CIA. So we’ve come full circle.
Also, why is the CIA involved at all? This is a matter for a law-enforcement agency, not an intelligence agency. That sort of thing perturbs me.
Leonard refuses to rejoin the CIA because it broke up his marriage, which is why he quit in the first place. His reluctance to get involved is a boon to the film, however, as it is now free to present a bizarre and unnecessary subplot involving Leonard’s 20-something daughter, Joan (Victoria Rowell), an aspiring actress who is dating her 66-year-old director. These sitcom-style shenanigans were perhaps intended to remind 1980s viewers of the times when they liked Bill Cosby, i.e., Thursdays, at 8/7 Central.
So the movie’s been going for what feels like a couple hours and still no espionage action. Don’t worry, though — Leonard is just about to change his mind and rejoin the CIA! But first he is thrilled to secure a dinner date with his ex-wife, Allison (Pat Colbert), who has refused to speak to him since the divorce. He’s so excited that he kisses his butler on the mouth (hot!), takes off his shirt (hawwt!) and embarks on a three-minute montage detailing his preparations for the date. This is a refreshing change from most spy comedies, which tend to focus on predictable things like spying and comedy. The date turns out to be an excuse for Allison to dump food on Leonard, as she has not yet forgiven him for the events that led to their divorce. The food-dumping scene lasts for at least 20 minutes, I’m sure of it, and Allison is very calm throughout, as if doped up on Vicodin, which produces envy in the mind of the viewer. Leonard, seeing that there is no chance of reconciliation with his wife, finally agrees to help the CIA save the world, just as the film enters its fourth hour.
We soon learn — well, “soon” is relative; nothing happens quickly in this movie — that when the CIA said Leonard was the only man who could do this job, they meant it literally. He heads over to Medusa’s lair by himself, without backup or assistance, without even checking in with Joe Don Baker. No wonder the CIA couldn’t bring Medusa down before, if they were just sending agents in one at a time. What kind of operation is Joe Don Baker running here??
The one person Leonard does consult before targeting Medusa is an Albanian fortune-teller who the narrator says lives in a trailer park but who actually lives in an old bus in an alley. Maybe the narrator was watching a different movie. The Albanian gives Leonard a pair of ballet slippers and a box with a queen bee in it, indicating that they will come in handy later. Sure enough, when Leonard busts into Medusa’s lair — which is just a dimly lit and badly photographed warehouse — he is beset by Medusa’s minions, weird people who wear animal costumes and dance when they fight. Somehow, putting on the ballet slippers helps Leonard deal with them better than, say, shooting them would have. And the magical sphere that enables Medusa to control animals is guarded by bees, so the queen bee is handy as a distraction, as worker bees are notoriously horny.
Once Leonard retrieves the magical sphere and hightails it out of there, you’d think the movie must be pretty close to wrapping things up. This is naive of you. Please don’t speak anymore. Obviously, the film will first need to revisit the subject of Leonard’s daughter and her elderly boyfriend, via a theater production that embarrasses Leonard. The film also needs to have Medusa kidnap Leonard’s ex-wife and demand the magical sphere as ransom. So that long sequence where Leonard sneaked into Medusa’s warehouse and fought the dancers? All for nothing. He has to go back and fight some more. The Albanian gives him more random items, including a hot dog; when Leonard makes one of Medusa’s henchmen eat the hot dog, the henchman’s head explodes. Then the henchman continues to stumble around, headless. It really puts the “W” in “WTF?”
What to make of a film this strange, misguided, and unfunny? In the weeks leading up to its release, Cosby told people not to see it, having determined for himself that it was lousy. One wonders why he didn’t realize that while it was being made, or while he was cooking up the story idea. Perhaps the men who actually wrote the screenplay and directed the film deleted Cosby’s best ideas, replacing all his hilarious scenes of toilet funerals for pet goldfish and Theo getting an earring with crime-fighting and espionage. We’ll probably never know what went wrong, now that Cosby has retired from acting to focus on being an elderly crank who scolds teenagers for listening to gangsta rap. Too bad, because “Leonard Part 7” could only have been an improvement.
(Note: What’s up with the title? We’re told that Leonard’s previous five adventures were so dangerous that they have been withheld for reasons of world security. Only his sixth adventure, this one, can safely be revealed, i.e., is boring and nonsensical enough to be revealed.)