This week on Vanyaland we are celebrating all things 1987 with a look back at moments, trends, and icons in the worlds of music and film. Follow along #V87.
All throughout 1987 Week, Vanyaland film editor Nick Johnston will be looking back fondly at a year that happened three years before he was born, and taking a critical eye to some of the worst and best films of that year. Today, we have two films about government agents being brought back in from the cold in order to go out and save the world: the infamously terrible ‘Leonard Part 6’ and the action classic ‘Predator’.
Leonard Part 6
Let’s put it like this: The Bill Cosby star vehicle Leonard Part 6 (the other parts having been redacted as they contain sensitive government information), in which a former CIA agent turned restaurateur must save the world from vegetarians while trying to get his estranged wife back and preventing his daughter from fucking an old-ass theater director, was already a hard watch prior to all of the sexual assault accusations against its star, producer and story-contributor, and now it’s even harder thanks to the developments of the last four or five years. Sure, there are other films that from this year that are terrible, ones that are worse on a cinematic level or contain laughably bad performances or shitty effects (that, of course, we’ll get to later in the week), but it’s hard to find a worse film both in content and the moral depravities of its lead. It’s bad, sure, but it’s also just downright despicable as well, and for that reason, and that reason alone, we’ll say that it only gets better from here on out with all of these shitty movies.
Leonard Part 6 was directed by Paul Weiland, who, surprisingly, went on and had a long career as a journeyman in both Hollywood and in his native Britain after this, most recently directing the 2008 Patrick Dempsey vehicle Made of Honor for your mom and her friends. It was shot by Jan De Bont, who was only a few years away from crafting one of the finest and campiest action thrillers in the post-Die Hard era, Speed, which he’d direct himself after a lengthy career behind the camera as a cinematographer. Neither man has distinguishing work here, but the root of all the evil present can be placed at Cosby’s feet. Weiland was later quoted in a Guardian story about his work on City Slickers II as saying that “[i]t was a terrible mistake. …When anyone gets into that position (Bill Cosby’s position of power in the 1980s), they are surrounded by sycophants and no one tells them the truth. But Cosby just wasn’t funny. I couldn’t tell him directly. I’d say it feels slow, and he’d say, ‘You worry about construction, let me worry about funny.” And it shows! It’s boring, stupid and just miserable. Sure, you may think you know how soul-crushingly bad movies can get. You may think yourself a connoisseur of gutter cinema, and still this will test your resolve.
The entire cast is bored. Sir Tom Courtenay, who’d later be knighted for his contributions to the craft of acting and recently broke people in half in Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years, serves as our narrator and as Cosby’s butler, who wants nothing more than for his master to get his groove back and save the world from evil once again. Legendary African-American actor Moses Gunn is given a part portraying a cradle-robbing theater director that Cosby’s daughter has fallen in love with, where he’s shown to be kind of a predator, luring her away from her family with talks of stardom. And Cosby’s on-screen wife, Victoria Rowell, looks anesthetized through and through, and it’s amazing how much milage the film thinks it gets out of a gag where she constantly spills and dumps food onto her “husband.” It’s deeply, deeply creepy once you remember the specifics of Cosby’s (alleged) crimes, because she looks about five or six seconds away at any point from passing out. Finally, Cosby himself just doesn’t give a single shit about anything in this film. I’d suggest that he’s sleepwalking through this role for a paycheck if he weren’t a goddamn producer here as well; and every once in awhile, his schtick here goes from merely annoying to outright risible.
This all, perhaps, could be excused within the text itself if Leonard Part 6 was in the remotest regard funny, but it isn’t. Each and every one of the comic set-pieces — Cosby trying to blow up the door to the villain’s lair with increasingly pathetic and weird fire power, the ballet-scene in which he lays the hurt on a bunch of Studio 54 rejects in bird costumes with the power of his twinkle-toes, and the final escape from said evil lair, where our protagonist rides an ostrich off the roof and in the process becomes a claymation figure for a couple of shots — are disastrously boring and sometimes outright risible in their contempt for their audience. The same with the villains, a league of vegetarians who are looking to get back at the world through the chemical manipulation of animals, in order to make, much in the vein of something like Monty Python, normally docile bunny rabbits kill their owners. They’re also defeated by meat, and I’m sure the USDA was happy with Cosby slinging raw hamburger at a bunch of thick henchmen in order to prove how beef would eventually save the damn world from animal mayhem.
If anything, the hubris involved on the part of its lead — that he could do anything he wanted as long as it came out and appealed to enough rubes who knew him as a goofball father figure on TV in order to make a quick buck — suggests and demonstrates Cosby’s position at that point in time. He was on top of the damn world, beloved by millions, until The Simpsons came along and “Homer at the Bat” finally dethroned the motherfucker from his spot atop the Nielsen ratings. It’s be all downhill from here, and Leonard Part 6 kicked that decline off with ample gusto. Sure, he’d still be Bill Cosby throughout the ’90s — Kids Say the Darndest Things and whatnot, having fully transitioned into the grandfatherly role of elder comedy statesman for my generation — but by the time he started becoming a hateful scold, he’d lost all of his power. He became a punchline. Pudding pops. New Coke. Sweaters. Symbols of a comforting ’80s aesthetic that became quaint in an era of terrorism and economic collapse, with only the slightest innovation along the way (like Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland’s House of Cosbys webseries). Then the monster buried beneath was revealed to us all, after being an open secret amongst the comedy community for years, and we all should feel ashamed we let it go on for so long. Leonard Part 6 is a testament to that ego, and should be rightfully cast aside into the dustbin of history along with the rest of his work.
As it stands today, there’s not much else really to say about John McTiernan’s Predator: You already know all the reasons why it fucking rocks. I mean, there’s so much stuff here worth praising in its own lengthy article, but I’ll just list off some of the best stuff here. The tight script. The excellently smooth direction. The uh-may-zing effects work Jesse Ventura’s snarling “I ain’t got time to bleed.” “You’re one ugly motherfucker.” “Long Tall Sally.” Shane Black. The entire final fight sequence between Dutch (Ahnold) and the Predator, who was originally going to be played by Jean-Claude Van Damme before he got fired for being too short and squirrelly and Belgian, who we can only imagine would have danced like this throughout the final fight.
Personally, though, I love it so much because it’s the last true expression of Homoerotic Schwarzenegger, which, the infinitely better Terminator and Conan films be damned, is my favorite Schwarzenegger. It’s basically an excuse to have a group of guys who wouldn’t be out of place in a Tom of Finland drawing run around the South American jungle full of macho posturing and alien violence. Where on Earth are you going to find another film in which the living personification of Vagina Dentata hunts a bunch of muscle-bound soldiers?
The answer is nowhere, obviously. It’s the best pure action film of 1987, and it’s up there with the best of the decade.
Come back tomorrow for a piece about two films about World Peace. It just might surprise you what they are.