Friday, January 7, 2011

The Three Ages of Val Kilmer

Last year, about a week ago to be exact, was Val Kilmer's 51st birthday. Although now in semi-obscurity, he was one of the most promising actors in the 90s. Watch any films he is in and he commands the screen. Say what you will about his current career, but Kilmer is enjoyable as hell to watch and he seems to enjoy being watched just as much. Although he was never nominated for an Oscar, he was nominated for four MTV Movie Awards, and that should count for something.

I admit, I'd rather have a Moonman on my shelf.

Really that's what movies are intended to be, enjoyable. Artistic integrity was added later to help validate the new medium. I'm not saying that Kilmer is not an artist, because he really is a great actor. What I'm saying is that he's more than a great actor, he's a fun one. Looking at his career, I've broken it up into the three decades he has been active. For each age of Kilmer's career, I have also chosen my favorite movie.

1980s, the spring of Kilmer:

How can you not love that face?

Kilmer was suppose to be in the Outsiders, a Francis Ford Coppolla film, but turned it down on account of prior obligations on the stage. His debut didn't come until 1984, with a Zucker Abrahams Zucker spoof movie called Top Secret! In the 80s, Kilmer was also in the infinitely popular Top Gun! (there is no exclamation point in Top Gun's title, I just felt it deserved one) and the cult-classic Willow. I myself am more interested in talking about Real Genius.

For one, the film's success relied solely on how likable Kilmer could be on screen. Secondly, it used three months worth of popcorn in its climactic scene. Real Genius' premise was about taking the high jinks of every college themed movie and putting them in the hands of Cal-tech students. It's a fun movie. The kind of movie you have to watch every time it's on Comedy Central at 3 p.m. And Kilmer, as a modern day Einstein is awesomely wacky. It also costarred William Atherton, whose name you do not recognize at all but you would know him at a glance.

He's played the pompous-ass in every movie ever made.

The 1990s, the summer of Kilmer:

After proving himself in the 80s, Kilmer was a bonafide star in the 90s. He starred in The Doors, Heat (which I regrettably never seen), and was even a decent Batman. The movie I chose to talk about is Tombstone.

Starring Kurt Russell and a bunch of mustaches.

Tombstone starred a giant cast for a 1992 western. Kurt Russell (Snake Plissken himself), Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, Charlton Heston, Terry O'Quinn, Thomas Haden Church, Billy Zane, Michael Rooker, Billy Bob Thorton, and even Sylvester Stallone's brother all acted in the gargantuan film. You can't throw a rock at the cast without hitting a notable actor, however Kilmer is the reason to watch the movie.

A lot of people said that he should of won an award for his performance, and I agree with them. He commands every scene that his Doc Holliday character is in. This turns a Wyatt Earp film into a vehicle for Kilmer's patented awesomeness. You almost feel bad for Russell, who is so awesome that his name was Walt Disney's last words. Kilmer steals the whole show.

When Kilmer is on screen in Tombstone he is either being badass or resting in bed, in preparation for further badassery. He makes the dying cowboy both incredibly likable and intimidating with a shooter. Only Kilmer can make the line "You're no daisy" sound so darn cool. A year later Kevin Costner released his own Wyatt Earp flick. It being a Costner movie, it ended up being too full of its own self importance. Because of this unfortunate Costner-effect, it was not nearly as enjoyable as Tombstone.

2000, the fall of Kilmer:

In no way am I trying to insinuate that Kilmer can't get work anymore. Even with the new decade he still has had plenty of gigs, just not as high profile as they once were (how can you top being Batman?). While he did star in turkeys such as Mission to Mars (one of two Mars films that year), Spartan and Mindhunters, he's also worked with Werner Herzog, Oliver Stone, and whoever it was that directed MacGruber.

It was better than The Ladies Man at least.

His best film of the last decade is, hands down, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Kiss Kiss is a satire of Hollywood, with Robert Downey, Jr. playing a thief who ends up being sent to Hollywood for a part in a movie. Kilmer plays a private detective who helps him prepare for the role. While on paper this sounds like a cheap buddy cop action film (Shane Black and Joel Silver, who helped make this film, also made Lethal Weapon), the end result is a self-aware comedy/action masterpiece. It's a self-conscious odyssey through all the action cliches that we've seen over the years. I am convinced that this film gave RDJ his big comeback. Both him and Kilmer are brilliant in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the best movie you haven't watched. They both play off each other wonderfully and the energy between the two is off the charts.

Seriously, watch this movie.

What will Kilmer's winter years bring us movie fans? Only time will tell if he gets the resurgence that RDJ has received lately. He is even in the middle of filming a Coppola flick right now. I'm jump happy (I meant to type just happy, but I kind of like the phrase "jump happy") he's still receiving steady work. Because he really has a talent at being on camera. He's starred in some great movies, dated Cindy Crawford, gotten the respect of Robert De Niro, raised buffalo and once got in an off-screen fistfight with Tom Cruise. If all those things don't make a man great, I don't know what does.

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