Downey A Troubled Actor, But Talent Obvious In ‘Restoration’

Even as we watch his most recent films, the career of Robert Downey Jr. is in jeopardy. The blame for this falls squarely on Hollywood’s illness-of-choice: drugs.

Downey’s talent is on prime display in “Restoration,” which is just out on video (see capsule review below). But even before he earned an Academy Award nomination for 1992’s “Chaplin,” the son of filmmaker Robert Downey (“Putney Swope,” 1969) proved he had what it takes to be a big-screen star.

Many times he was better than the film itself. That’s certainly the case for “Less Than Zero” (1987), “The Pick-Up Artist” (1987), “Air America” (1990) and “Only You” (1993).

More in tune with his surroundings, Downey still managed to add something unique to “Soapdish” (1991), “Short Cuts” (1993) and “Natural Born Killers” (1994).

But if you want to see the full range of Downey’s abilities, from drama to comedy, including a talent for clever impersonations, rent “Heart and Souls” (1993).

The reports from the tabs say that no matter how rampant his drug usage has become - three arrests in the last few weeks alone - Downey has been nothing but professional on the set. That, as long as it continues, should save his career.

Only Downey himself can salvage his life.

Andy Warhol’s bad

In a July 12 review of the theatrical release “I Shot Andy Warhol,” I referred to the noted pop artist as being “Cleveland-born.” Well, let’s rethink that statement.

According to a reader, who declined to identify himself, “everyone knows” that Warhol was born in Pittsburgh.

Everyone? Well, that may be a stretch. The Encyclopedia Britannica and the World Book Encyclopedia indeed do report Warhol’s birthplace as Pittsburgh.

Yet Ephraim Katz, the esteemed late author of “The Film Encyclopedia,” insists that Warhol was born in Cleveland (as Andy Warhola on Aug. 8, 1927).

The New Columbia Encyclopedia, meanwhile, lists Philadelphia as Warhol’s place of birth.

And no less an authority as the New York Times claims that Warhol was born in McKeesport, Pa. - a town located some 11 miles eastsoutheast of Pittsburgh - “either in 1927 or 1929, there is some doubt about the year.”

As in most other aspects of his life (including his death), Warhol loved to weave mystery around himself. On that point, at least, the experts tend to agree.

Restoration ***

Robert Downey Jr. always has had talent to waste, and that’s generally what he’s done. Waste it. But in this small story of one man’s quest for redemption, he pulls off a fine, nuanced performance in a role that could have been played for laughs. Downey portrays a doctor who, in 1660 England, responds to the restoration of the English crown (from Cromwell’s Puritans to Charles II) by drinking and womanizing.

But after getting his chance to party at court, and then blowing it, he finds the means to atone - and in doing so discovers his true calling. The film is nothing new, but its feel is optimistic and refreshing, which is no small feat in these cynical times. Also starring Sam Neil, Meg Ryan, Polly Walker, David Thewlis and Hugh Grant (as a fey portrait painter). Rated R

From Dusk Til Dawn **-1/2

The first half of this Robert Rodriguez film sets up the essential players - killer-thief brothers Seth (George Clooney) and Richie (Quentin Tarantino) Gekko, plus the family they have kidnapped, a pastor who has lost his faith (Harvey Keitel), his daughter (Juliette Lewis) and adopted son.

But the second part merely degenerates into a see-how-many-ways-we-can-kill-somebody bloodfest. Rodriguez, whose “Desperado” helped project Antonio Banderas as an action star, directs this Mexican bloodsucker thriller with what passes for style.

And Tarantino’s screenplay demonstrates at least a vestige of his skill for clever dialogue. But the lack of a real point (even pulp fiction needs to follow some larger theme) eventually lessens the impact of the very talented Clooney’s debut - he’s the next Batman - as a film star. Rated R

White Squall **-1/2

Based on a true story… Never trust those words. And even though this movie was directed by Ridley Scott (and not Oliver Stone), that above truism applies. Scott, working from a script by Todd Robinson, tells the story of a man (Jeff Bridges) who, in 1960, runs a seafaring high school for troubled, if not merely troublesome, teen boys.

When a freak storm smashes the ship, killing several characters whom we’ve come to know, the group’s bond is threatened - until all is ironed out in a stirring court scene. Trouble is that very little seems real, from the well-muscled boys (led by “Party of Five” star Scott Wolf) to the dialogue that they are forced to speak in that aforementioned court scene.

Bridges is good, as he always is, and Scott’s cinematography is superb, as it always is. But the story feels about as real as, say, Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Rated PG-13

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

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