Motor City Jay

I think Jay Leno did a terrific thing by coming to Detroit, er Auburn Hills, and performing a couple of free concerts for the area's unemployed. You can count on one hand how many non-Detroiter performers would have done that, and you'd have some fingers left over.

But it's the least Jay can do after coming to Detroit in 1986 and putting Collision Course on celluloid.

That movie was so bad, I'd say we're even-Steven now. His free performances at The Palace pay off a longtime debt, albeit with interest.

Leno wasn't the big deal in '86 that he is now when he traipsed to Detroit along with co-stars Pat Morita and Chris Sarandon to make a Hollywood movie downtown.

In fact, Jay's damn lucky that Collision Course didn't do any damage to his career.

Our city almost became the backdrop for a comedian's crash-and-burn moment.

The plot was thus. Leno played a Detroit cop who got himself involved in a case of industrial espionage, a case so international that it required Morita's character to venture all the way from Japan to investigate on behalf of his country's police force.

At issue were some rogue car parts and the evil mastermind behind the plan to illegally produce them, played by Sarandon.

All of the movie's exteriors were shot in Detroit. Getting especially good screen time were the Eastern Market area and several of the city's neighborhoods near downtown and in Mexican Town.

My friends from college, Cory Bergen and Jeff Johnson, got themselves into a scene as extras during one of the climactic car chases that ended in Eastern Market. I actually saw them, too, reacting wildly to a vehicle running headlong into the back of a produce truck.

They told me later that they purposely used exaggerated hand and arm gestures with the hope of being conspicuous on camera. Mission accomplished.

But Leno was awful. The film was pretty bad, too, but at least Morita and Sarandon had significant film acting experience under their belts. Leno didn't. And it showed.

Just in case you don't believe me.

There was a scene where Leno's cop is supposed to get in the face of Sarandon after the latter appeared at a press conference at one of the vacant lots in town. Jay's charge was to come off intimidating, pissed off, and Charles Bronson-ish.

Sarandon smugly asks Leno what he's going to do about Sarandon's nefarious plan.

Jay sneers, "I'm going to be your worst nightmare, that's whats I'm going to do."

Yes, Jay said "whats".

The filmmakers either didn't catch it (though I don't know you miss that) or probably had done enough takes that they just said "screw it."

Morita was decent, a fine actor in a bad movie with even worse writing. Sarandon was dutifully slimy. The car chases and our city looked pretty bad ass.

But Jay was awful.

Leno never made another movie after Collision Course, which had its release delayed. I suspect that it would have gone straight to DVD had it been made nowadays.

No, Jay stayed away from Hollywood (or vice-versa) and returned to his comfort zone, standup comedy. He eventually landed the job of being Johnny Carson's permanent guest host of The Tonight Show.

The rest, as they say, is TV history.

What also is history is Jay Leno's movie acting career.

Or should I say, "Whats also is history..."

Sorry, Jay, for bringing up Collision Course at a possibly unseemly time, in the afterglow of your free concerts for us.

But you owed us.

Oh, and to those reading this who are indignant.

Psst--I'm kidding.

Sort of.

Here's a scene I found on YouTube. It's Jay and Pat Morita busting up one of our bowling alleys.


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