The Best Part of One of the Worst Movies of All Time
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because he still gets royalty checks on this bad boy.
It was kismet of the worst best kind.
I had just played the craziest show ever with my ur-hardcore punk band Whipping Boy, at a Holiday Inn in San Francisco on a strangely significant Saturday night. The promoter paid us $1,000 — a crazy sum in 1986 dollars — for 30 minutes of blisteringly angry music, right before he was hauled off by the police and slammed into a mental institution for running through the hotel halls wearing nothing but a cowboy hat and silver spangles and brandishing a bullhorn through which he was announcing that extraterrestrials were upon us.
AND the extraterrestrials had stolen “his” cocaine.
The whys and wherefores of the promoter’s subsequent institutionalization are much less the issue here than the fact that a friend of mine, the writer and almost-Olympian track and field great Don Bajema, asked me immediately afterward: “Do you have an agent?”
I didn’t, but by Tuesday, Bajema had introduced me to one. By Thursday, I had a call to show up shirtless at a San Francisco warehouse.
Under normal circumstances this might have been cause for concern, but given that I had had a healthy sideline in competitive bodybuilding, it seemed a reasonable request. We paraded around, about 40 of us, preening and glistening, for who eventually turned out to be Bill Cosby. For his breakout movie at the height of his powers circa The Cosby Show.
At 185 pounds, while way smallish for steroid-fueled success in bodybuilding competitions, I was almost perfectly sized for film. And so, from the original 40 to the final cut of seven, my life under the klieg lights had begun.
And it had begun with the customary delivery of the script about secret agent “Leonard Parker,” whose previous five missions were so secret that the movie picked up at six, hence Leonard Part 6.
Get it? Wait, wait, it gets better.
Actually no, it doesn’t.
Concerned, and a writer myself, I pulled aside a production assistant and said, “The script is terrible. I don’t know much about movies —”
“Precisely why you’re where you are and why he” — she gesticulated toward Mr. Cosby — “is where he is.”
Which was precisely in the midst of trying to make a movie about a villainess whose attempts to turn the world vegan have led her and her well-muscled henchmen to turn the animal population against their human wardens. Nonsense-spouting gypsies, killer bees, Leonard (Cosby) battling lobsters with refined butter and flying through the air with the greatest of ill ease on the back of an ostrich, this was the stuff Leonard Part 6 was made of.
But wading through this as Guard No. 3 with my three lines was not nearly as fun as makeup-trailer time with Bill. The genial Cosby. The avuncular Jell-O Brand Gelatin Man.
“You boys are YOKED up! All of that weightlifting. Maybe you can help me get some muscle, yeah?”
And we start to answer because we’ve never spent any time around celebs like him, or Elvis, and we haven’t figured out that you don’t answer the king, you just listen and urge the stories along with nods. So listen we do once we get that this is a “routine.” Half-smiles on our faces, because this is going to be, well, GREAT, you know? The Noah’s ark routine, Fat Albert, Cliff Huxtable, fer Chrissake.
“I tried and tried, and nothing. But … you know how I got my nose this way?” Cosby is leering like Benny Hill and pointing theatrically to his, well, Cosby-esque nose.
“BY EATING LOTS OF …” And here some sort of editorial control must be exhibited, because all of a sudden all of those pictures we had seen of Cosby hanging out at the Playboy Mansion started to make sense. And, to quote Naughty by Nature’s Treach, the word he used was just another way to call a cat a kitty. Or, as popularized by President-elect Trump, we’ll just say what he said: “PUSSY!”
Everybody shifted uncomfortably in their chairs, since it was every bit like if your dad had suggested that the two of you go out to “get laid” or something. Everybody but me, that is. I laughed and laughed. Loudly, and inappropriately, for as long as there was breath in my body, and with tears in my eyes.
Cosby turned an approving glance my way, one that said, “You’re going to go far, kid,” and sat back, satisfied that he still “had it.”
But I was laughing, not because it was funny, but precisely because it was so unfunny. Like the $24 million movie we were in the midst of making.
Which saw me doing my own stunts and getting run down by a horse no fewer than three times. And later, right after the big Hollywood-style premiere, had Cosby sending up his own Sacheen Littlefeather to disown the movie. I laughed my ass off again.
Had the movie been merely mediocre, it would not be worth writing about. It was colossal, just the other way from what everyone had expected. Not only did it pull in just $4.6 million when it debuted in 1987, but it also garnered several Golden Raspberry Award nominations — Worst Actor (Cosby, not me), Worst Picture, Worst Screenplay, Worst Supporting Actress and, finally, Worse Director — and at the 2005 Razzies, it earned a nod as the Worst “Comedy” of Our First 25 Years.
Which is precisely why it’s so great.
Celebs had viewing parties. Well, actually only Penn Jillette did, he was so obsessed with it. I had viewing parties as well, repeating lines for captive audiences of the shocked and appalled. Cosby followed Leonard with the slightly less ambitious Ghost Dad, in addition to a colossal legal imbroglio that involved all manner of accusations concerning date rape of the most miserable kind.
But he and I will both still have the gloriously insane, totally uninspired Leonard Part 6, the high-water mark of low culture. Believe that.