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Flashback Five – The Movies of Jay Leno


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Maybe you love Jay Leno. Maybe you hate him. No matter! This whole Conan-versus-Leno kerfuffle got us thinking about a less scandalous, but related topic: Jay Leno’s long, not particularly distinguished movie career. Say what you want about the late-night host; his filmography is a thing of wonder. (Or should we say perplexity?)

1. Love the Beast (2008)
As one of the celebrity drive-bys in Eric Bana’s well-received ode to his favorite ride — a 1974 Ford XB Falcon Couple nicknamed “The Beast” — Leno, with his warehouse full of lovingly restored, but neglected cars, makes a rare recent appearance on the big screen. Leno haters should note that the appearance doesn’t serve him entirely well: Whereas Bana’s earnestness about his love for going under the hood carries the movie, Leno comes off as just another uber-moneyed collector.

2. Cars (2006)
Seeing a trend here? Apparently once Leno reached his late career, there had to be some wheels involved in a project for him to take it on. In this Pixar hit, he provides the voice for “Jay Limo,” an ice-blue ride that, like Leno, spent its formative years doing stand-up before catching its big break as a host on late-night TV. (Seriously.)

3. The Flintstones (1994)
Remember this one? The critically-reviled, but nonetheless successful adaptation of the stone-age family cartoon? John Goodman may have carried the movie as that likable old Fred, but Leno stops by too — to play “Bedrock’s Most Wanted Host,” in a nod to the critical consensus of the day. What would they call him now? Hmm.

4. What’s Up, Hideous Sun Demon? (1983)
Well, this is interesting. Leno serves as the narrator for this redubbed spoof (also known as Revenge of the Sun Demon) of B-movie talent Robert Clarke’s lo-fi 1959 monster movie The Hideous Sun Demon. Parts of the movie were also re-shot to reflect the movie’s new premise: That all the trouble can be traced back to a nefarious bottle of suntan lotion.

5. American Hot Wax (1978)
Leno gets one of his first big roles (“Mookie”) in this must-see for audiophiles, a biopic that traces the career of radio DJ Alan Freed, the man credited by many with inventing the term “rock ‘n roll.” It didn’t make a dent at the box office, but with a supporting cast that includes Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and, er, Fran Drescher, there’s more than enough here to make a revisit worthwhile.

Honorable Mentions:

1. Robots (2005) – This well-received animated flick most assuredly benefited from Leno’s voice turn as “Fire Hydrant.”

2. Collision Course (1987) – A largely forgotten flop that will surely go down in the annals of pop culture oddities, this buddy comedy finds Leno starring opposite Pat Morita (Mr. Miyagi!) as the mismatched Detroit answer to Morita’s Japanese cop. Even Leno calls this one “a horrible movie,” so consider yourself forewarned.

3. Americathon (1979) – In this mediocre comedy that stars John Ritter as the American president, Leno stops by to engage in a prize fight against (who else?) his mother.

4. Silver Bears (1977) – This comedy-thriller finds Leno playing the errant son of the mob boss with whom Michael Caine’s criminal mastermind takes up to pull off a scam.

5. Fun With Dick And Jane (1977) – Our (anti-?) hero’s cinematic debut comes with his blink-and-you’ll-miss-it portrayal of a carpenter in the original version of the comedy that was remade in 2005.

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