Right, then. To have one bona fide turkey, that gets mentioned in list after list of ‘worst ever’ films and lives up to its reputation too, could be regarded as a misfortune. To clock up two in a year points to the kind of psychotic episode that only flourishes within the walls of secure institutions and film studios. The film studio in this case was Columbia Pictures under the misguided tenure of David Puttnam, still reeling from the mammoth flop that was ISHTAR when this effort dribbled into the fleapits. But as with the Beatty/Hoffman calamity, you can’t blame Dave for its existence – Leonard was initiated by star Bill Cosby, a major presence on the studio’s board and official spokesman of Coke at the time, to boot.
The result was a top-down production – start with the star, set aside the millions, assemble the production team around them and, er, we’ll think of something for them to actually do later – that hardly ever works, but rarely crashes on this scale. Puttnam got Cosby’s back up by parachuting Brit ad-man Paul Wieland in to direct. In an astonishing demonstration of misplaced affrontery, Cosby responded to this encroachment on his authority by insisting on hiring an all-black production crew. More time and effort was spent on this sort of tit-for-tat politics than actually making the film.
When things finally wrapped, the nightmare really began. Nothing cut together. Scene after scene was unshowable shite. The editing suite must have been waist-deep in celluloid offcuts, as the final cut ran to a malnourished 71 minutes. Despite this voracious pruning, it’s still a tedious mess. Bets are hedged with a ‘coming up’ montage of action set-pieces before the plot itself is underway. Then we get some clearly after-the-test-screening-panic footage of Tom Courtenay (Cosby’s butler, apparently) laying down the plot. The plot, such as it is, has that ageing clairvoyant woman off of The Matrix as a psychotic vegetarian Bond villain, on a mission to attack good, honest meat-eating folk with mind-controlled fauna and the aid of a team of henchmen dressed as wildlife. Or something like that. And Cosby is a former secret agent who’s retired to open a meatcentric restaurant, but is coaxed back into action by Joe Don Baker.
What you get for your money is a loose assemblage of set-pieces wherein the alert viewer can positively smell the fear on the makers’ grubby paws. Leonard Part 6 is not just a place-stinking-out flop, though, It’s one of those rare films where the entire conceit splits and falls away like a too-thinly-rolled sheet of puff pastry, and the jerking, clueless and panicky idiots piloting the thing are thrown into the foreground, Wizard of Oz-style. Even the most straight-up-and-down, cried-at-Ice-Age-2, writes-concerned-letters-to-Ken-Barlow anti-cynic can’t help but watch Leonard as an unfolding documentary about a bunch of scared, clueless Hollywood nincompoops running round a studio desperately trying to patch up a hideous monster that’s collapsing faster than they can saw. It’s Towed in a Hole on assiduously topped-up expenses.
Like the worst ‘comedy’ TV adverts, the transparency of the shameful situation is embarrassing – a bunch of moderately-to-non-creative types trying to really ‘let their hair down’ and come up with the zaniest, wackiest, most off-the-wall slapstick ideas they can manage, then making them, then realising no-one else finds them as zany or wacky as they did, and so hastily re-cutting, amping up the soundtrack and dubbing comedy sound effects throughout. A trout is ordered to attack someone, and starts looking at a copy of Playboy instead. A gang of frogs push a car off a pier and drown a CIA man. The Adam West-era Batmobile is woefully parodied. Joe Don Baker gets attacked by a rabbit. That sort of thing.
Through all this, Cosby does four things of note – puffs along to a Jane Fonda workout video, does a spot of ‘obvious body double and that’s the gag’ ballet, snogs Tom Courtenay, and rides on the back of an ostrich. When he isn’t doing this, he’s generally just standing about looking knackered. Oh, and supping heartily from a bottle of Coke, in some at least totally shameless product placement. There’s some off-colour humour concerning Cosby’s daughter copping off with a geriatric, and his estranged wife lobs food in his face a lot. The one-liners are of roughly the calibre, and exactly the same irritating inappropriateness, of Russell T Davies’s least judicious Dr Who ‘zingers’. People hit their heads on low-slung objects, with a comedy noise dubbed on. And then they do it again.
The best you can say is that, where Ishtar was merely tediously bad, this is driven by some manic energy – the energy of wanton stupidity, crassness and total humourlessness, admittedly, but energy nonetheless. Apart from the lachrymose Cosby himself, who barely burns a calorie during the entire film. He certainly put in the effort on release, though, appearing on chat shows galore to talk about Leonard and say how shite it was and no-one should go and see it. Coming from a star that’s not so unusual, but co-writer, producer and major studio shareholder? He was obviously having a rough time, so we’ll draw a veil over all that mess, as did Cosby himself by buying up all syndication rights to the thing and, presumably, frogmarching them off a pier. Paul Weiland, meanwhile, picked himself up, dusted himself off, and went on to direct Bernard and the Genie, so it wasn’t all bad.