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Monday, October 24th, 2011

Dildo Massages, Ballet & Satanic Taxi Drivers: Six Cinematic Misfires of Bill Cosby

William Henry Cosby is American comedy royalty, a man whose standup albums are still coveted amongst aspiring yukmeisters and whose assorted forays into sitcom television helped redefine the genre. Yet every heap of magic the Cos doled out via those mediums is matched by motion picture failure. Indeed, the man who birthed TV institutions Fat Albert and Cliff Huxtable could never really swing it in the movies no matter what other talents he was paired with.

Here now, a run down of six notable Cosby film flubs that, if you haven't already seen them, will leave you desperately reaching for a Jello Pudding Pop.

1. Mother, Jugs & Speed (1976): Bullitt director Peter Yates assembled this "wacky" comedy about a trio of bored EMTs who crack wise while cruising around various sections of Los Angeles. Cast as Mother, Cosby — alongside Raquel Welch's Jugs (LOL) and Harvey Keitel's Speed — gets his jollies scaring nuns with purposely erratic ambulance driving and administering vaccines to scantily-clad white women. Bill does little to raise this entry above "meh" in the '70s low budget party flick canon, although Mother, Jugs & Speed has gained notoriety in recent years thanks to a scene in which the otherwise morally upstanding Cliff Huxtable demands a vibrator be placed in his ear.

2. Top Secret (1978): "It's a deadly top secret mission for Bill Cosby!" bellowed the promos for this NBC made-for-TV movie (not to be confused with Val Kilmer's wild 1984 spoof Top Secret!), but seeing the figure from "I Spy" minus Robert Culp and plus fifteen pounds didn't make for captivating prime time viewing. Top Secret posited Cos as a government agent in Europe hot on the trail of stolen plutonium. Starring as Bill's wily female partner? Future Matrix Oracle Gloria Foster.

3. California Suite (1978): This star-studded and basically forgotten Neil Simon adaptation was something of a precursor to Quentin Tarantino's Four Rooms: A posh hotel plays host to four separate plot lines of varying comedic dizziness. Cosby's vignettes concerned two married couples on vacation forced to share one hilariously cramped room. The other husband was played by Richard Pryor. Fans will take note that scenes from California Suite are generally never included in highlight reels for either of these phenomenal comedic talents.

4. Leonard Part 6 (1987): The Hiroshima of all Cosby bombs, Leonard Part 6 had the heavy stink of failure before it even hit theaters: Columbia Pictures president David Puttnam tried in vain to halt production when he realized what was being assembled while Cosby himself did press urging fans to avoid LP6 at all costs (there's also a rumor Cos bought up all the broadcast rights so the movie could never be shown on TV). All parties were correct in their shame — aside from being a relentlessly unfunny spy farce involving the brainwash of small animals, Leonard Part 6 also features some of the most embarrassingly blatant Coca-Cola product placement in cinema history. The only silver lining here? Bill Cosby's extended ballet sequence (and even that's pretty bad).

5. Ghost Dad (1990): The re-teaming of Cosby and his pal Sidney Poitier seemed like a great idea; the pair managed to crank out a handful of underrated caper comedies in the late '70s, including Uptown Saturday NIght and Let's Do It Again. Sadly, the magic didn't return for fatally tone deaf Ghost Dad, in which our hero plays a dad…who's a ghost. Audiences weren't in the mood to laugh after the film's surprisingly scary death sequence that put Cosby in a speeding taxi being piloted by an apparently drug-addled Satanist. Leave it to Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier to reinforce negative stereotypes about Satanists. Why couldn't the guy have been a shitty Christian driver?

6. Fat Albert (2004): Is Fat Albert the least essential live action film ever made? Possibly. The world was not clamoring at the dawn of the new millennium for a fresh interpretation of Bill Cosby's Saturday morning cartoon classic. Also, Fat Albert brazenly Xeroxes its plot from those mid-nineties Brady Bunch movies. How cute, these anachronistic time-traveling weirdos have never seen a pop top soda can before. Now what do they do for the other eighty-seven minutes? Unbelievably, Forest Whitaker was once attached to direct this eye-roller but dropped out over "creative differences." Let's assume he objected to the Aaron Carter and Joel Madden cameos.

James Greene, Jr. is a freelance writer who has actually been paid real money by places like the New York Press, Geek Monthly, Crawdaddy.com, and Uncle John's Bathroom Reader. A visit to his personal blog should eat up at least two minutes of your day.