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Kilmer Has Had Great Moments, But He’s Made Some Awful Choices

When you think of George Cosmatos’ 1993 neo-Western “Tombstone,” chances are you remember Val Kilmer first.

There’s the scene in which, cast as the tubercular sociopath Doc Holliday, Kilmer dispatches a foe with a knife big enough to filet a water buffalo.

Then there’s the scene in which he guns down Michael Biehn, taunting the dying gunfighter with his tagline, “I’m yoah huckleberry.”

And there’s the death scene, in which he begs longtime buddy Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell) to leave. No way does Kilmer’s Doc want a man he respects, maybe even loves, to witness the final legacy that his ruined lungs have wrought.

Most memorable, however, is the scene in which Kilmer mimics a rival’s pistolero acrobatics - using a mere coffee cup. Lampooning has never seemed more savage.

In a film that is maddeningly uneven (but more entertaining for it), Kilmer’s “Tombstone” performance is the dictionary definition of bravura - “a bold attempt or display of daring; dash.”

Given this, let us now pose a necessary question: How is it that the very same actor who lights up the screen in “Tombstone” virtually stiffs in “The Saint”?

And now let us suggest an answer: Given his career choices, it’s not that unusual. Turns out Kilmer has a unique talent, one that borders on self-destruction, for following good roles with outright stinkers.

Not that choosing good roles is all that easy. If you’ve ever read an original screenplay, you know how hard it is to separate treasure from trash. So much depends on the budget, on the aesthetic sensibilities of the director, on the chemistry of the stars, on the talents of the cinematographer, production designer, editor and even sound crew (anybody remember John Gilbert?).

Also, one or two of Kilmer’s choices were exactly the kind of “artistic” choices that can’t be second-guessed (not everyone can be happy playing Batman).

Still, after debuting in the “Airplane!”-like “Top Secret” (1984), why would Kilmer opt the very next year for a teen exploitation film such as “Real Genius” ? Maybe it was youth; after all, he was only 25 at the time.

In 1986, however, he played the notorious Ice in “Top Gun,” only to follow up with the television movie “The Man Who Broke 1,000 Chains” (1987). And after his remarkable 1991 performance as Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone’s “The Doors,” he played a half-breed FBI agent in Michael Apted’s ridiculous “Thunderheart” (1992) and a bank robber wannabe in the jokey crime film “The Real McCoy” (1993).

After temporarily taking over as Bruce Wayne in “Batman Forever” (1995), he stood out the same year in Michael Mann’s “Heat.” Clearly, though, he couldn’t stand the good notices. For then came the execrable “The Island Of Dr. Moreau” (1996).

And, now, “The Saint.” Directed by Phillip Noyce, “The Saint” would seem to be a perfect fit for Kilmer. A clever mimic (check out his Marlon Brando impersonation in “Dr. Moreau”), Kilmer has the required talents to play a variety of odd characters.

Yet they all seem like the same guy doing bad jobs of impersonating each other. As for the rest of what the film has to offer, well, read the capsule review below.

Oh, Kilmer has had other good moments. His Madmartigan in “Willow” (1988), his hard-boiled sucker in “Kill Me Again” (1980) and his ghost of Elvis in “True Romance” (1993): good performances all.

The sad thing is that they make his regular failures only that much more lamentable.

The Daytrippers


When a young wife finds a suspicious note, her family takes her into New York to confront her husband. As the day passes, the family confronts one comedic crisis after another on what becomes, in the end, a road trip to realization. Mottola, who was barely 30 when he shot this film on a bare budget, has a good sense of character, of comic timing and of cinematic pacing. He just needs to hone his skills at communicating his overall message. The final 20 minutes, which take a serious turn, leave us with no clear notion of who learned what or how well. Rated PG-13

The Saint


A free-lance espionage agent (Val Kilmer), whose various identities take the names of Catholic saints, steals a secret formula from a beautiful scientist (Elisabeth Shue), relents when he realizes he has fallen in love and then must fight the very forces - the Russian Mafia - that had contracted him in the first place. The film starts off well, but when doe-eyed Shue - who is about as believable as a scientist as Tiny Tim would have been as an action hero - enters, things go downhill fast. Ultimately, the plot that Noyce (“Patriot Games”) is forced to follow stretches audience credibility well past the breaking point. Rated PG-13

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S NEW TO VIEW Now available: “The Daytrippers” (Columbia TriStar), “The Saint” (Paramount), “Silent Trigger” (Buena Vista). Available Tuesday: “The English Patient” (Buena Vista), “Commandments’ (MCA/Universal), “Warriors of Virtue” (MGM/UA), “Selena” (Warner).

This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S NEW TO VIEW Now available: “The Daytrippers” (Columbia TriStar), “The Saint” (Paramount), “Silent Trigger” (Buena Vista). Available Tuesday: “The English Patient” (Buena Vista), “Commandments’ (MCA/Universal), “Warriors of Virtue” (MGM/UA), “Selena” (Warner).