Confessions of a Film Masochist : Nothing Explains 'Leonard Part 6'--That's Why It's Fun

Very few freeway drivers in Los Angeles could honestly claim that now and again they don't at least occasionally succumb to the "rubbernecking" syndrome--you know, the practice of holding up traffic on one side of a freeway because you're slowing down to gawk at a gory accident on the other side.

Here in Hollywoodland, there's possibly an even more perverse brand of "rubbernecker"--the sick voyeur who just can't get enough of a gander at the awful filmic accidents that occasionally hit the screen.

I'm not proud to be one, but I confess: Why else did I not only sit through the disastrous Bill Cosby vehicle "Leonard Part 6" once (something few masochists in America were willing to subject themselves to over the holidays, as it turned out) but twice --and, what's more, willingly! Am I a glutton for punishment, or do I simply savor the sight of cinematic blood?

Yes, and yes, but I'm not alone in this dysfunction (See articles on Page 3). Even if you feel smug about having skipped "Leonard Part 6" in the theaters--and examine your own heart here, if you will--can you honestly resist, sheltered by the comforts of home and cable, the lure of at least partial viewings of "Who's That Girl" or "Over the Top" or "Under the Cherry Moon," movies with aesthetic merits in exactly inverse proportion to their star-power and budgets?

Something about watching big bucks squandered and big stars squirming on screen seems to appeal to and help salve our deepest insecurities--as if to strike a chord within us "little people" that says, hey , what we do with our money and time may not be so awful after all.

Hey , if one of the richest and funniest men in America can be the star/producer/scenarist of a $20-million-plus A-bomb, and then end up on "The Larry King Show" basically offering a public apology and warning fans that maybe they'd better not go, then maybe I of more meager means who made that little flub at the office last week am not such a jerk after all.

(Of course, if you're not a little person but a real Hollywood mover and shaker, you might presumably take no less delight in renting "Heaven's Gate," buying a copy of the book "The Final Cut" and repeating "This guy Cimino had just swept the Oscars!" to yourself ad nauseum.)

Lest we stand accused of taking delight in someone else's failure purely for its own sake, it should be pointed out that "Leonard Part 6" does offer real pleasures, if entirely unintentional ones, that make it fine fodder for repeated viewings.

In "Leonard," the inevitable 3-C (Columbia Pictures/Coca-Cola Co./Cosby) product tie-ins are good for the biggest laughs. When Cosby in one scene orders his daughter to fetch him a soda pop from the kitchen, anticipatory chuckles come from the sure knowledge that she will shortly return with a bottle of you-know-what, and that Cos will hold it for the remainder of the scene, label toward the camera. The large stacks of Lava soap that fill the frame in another scene are less easily explained, but then, not much in "Leonard" has an easy explanation, and that's why it's so much baffling fun to watch and analyze.

The humor, such as it is, comes not from the weird gags, but from trying to second-guess what Cosby and his collaborators were thinking as they came up with the gags: Chortle as a large object flies through a restaurant's plate-glass window! Guffaw as Cosby operates on himself, removing a bullet from his chest, while being forced by his oblivious, whining actress daughter to read one of her reviews aloud! Chuckle madly as Cosby lets killer rabbits loose on the necks of his own fellow government agents so he can beat it without them following him! Bust a gut as Tom Courtenay chants Latin while Cosby's valet does a pathetic parody of his Oscar-nominee role in "The Dresser"! Roll in the aisles as gypsy children throw toys at Cosby's head and his wife dumps dinner over his crown not once but twice! Die laughing as a vegetarian villain's head explodes when Cos plops a hot dog in his mouth!

Are we having fun yet?

Kicking "Leonard" may seem to be kicking a dead horse (as the major Christmas bomb, it's very nearly gone from theaters after grossing less than $5 million), yet as a mega-superstar mega-failure, it serves a real and lasting function, one that may ultimately do Cosby some good.

Cosby seemed to be succeeding at everything: We might love his top-rated TV show, love his best-selling books and love his comedy records, but when we're forced to watch helplessly as he endorses every product with enough money to get his agent on the phone, saturation is reached and we begin to hope that a man this rich and powerful can't have everything his way.

He was due for a failure in some medium, and finally found it. As with Madonna's "Who's That Girl" movie debacle and other star disasters, the public has said, "We like you, and we will let you get away with almost anything, but we won't let you get away with everything." What a relief for us; what a relief maybe even for him.

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