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(1959– ). American actor.

Acted in: Top Secret! (Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker 1984); Real Genius (Martha Coolidge 1985); Murders in the Rue Morgue (tv movie) (Jeannot SZWARC 1986); Willow (Ron HOWARD 1988); Batman Forever (Joel SCHUMACHER 1995); The Island of Dr. Moreau (John FRANKENHEIMER 1996); Dead Girl (Adam Coleman Howard 1996); The Saint (Phillip Noyce 1997); The Prince of Egypt (animated; voice) (Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner, and Simon Wells 1998); Red Planet (Antony Hoffman 2000); George and the Dragon (uncredited) (Tom Reeve 2004);  Moscow Zero (Maria Lidon 2006); Deja Vu (Tony Scott 2006); The Ten Commandments: The Musical (Robert Iscove 2006); Delgo (animated; voice) (Marc F. Adler and Jason Maurer 2008); Knight Rider (tv series) (voice; uncredited) (2008-2009).
Reviewing my previous entries, I notice that performers are frequently praised because they are intelligent, or because they are hard-working. In these comments, I convey a belief that, more than ill-defined and elusive qualities like "talent" or "charisma," the personal traits truly necessary for a successful acting career are only the intelligence to recognize what the medium demands, and the energy and determination to meet those demands—traits that may be especially important in the often unpredictable and inchoate worlds of science fiction film. Yet a third, unrelated characteristic may sometimes be enough to catapult an actor to prominence, and that is pure, dumb luck. To illustrate the point, since his dogged avoidance of science fiction and fantasy films relieves me of the obligation to examine Richard Gere, I will discuss Val Kilmer.

He was a distant relative of Joyce Kilmer, a mediocre poet lucky enough to write one poem that became famous—"Trees"—and Val Kilmer clearly inherited his luck. Propitiously born and raised in Los Angeles, the center of the film industry, and blessed with male-model attractiveness, he required no special skills or diligence to break into major motion pictures at a relatively early age. However, displaying little talent either for acting or for managing his own career, his unremarkable performances in unremarkable films like Top Secret!, Real Genius, and Willow made no lasting impression, so that as the eighties drew to a close, Kilmer seemingly had little chance to establish himself as a Hollyood icon. But he beat the odds with another lucky break: he happened to resemble the late Jim Morrison, he had a decent singing voice, and trendy young director Oliver Stone had just decided to make a film about The Doors (1991). Inevitably cast in the leading role, Kilmer suddenly found himself a major Hollywood star, although his dull and dutifully decadent performance had none of the vibrancy of Gary Busey's Buddy Holly (which is why Busey got an Oscar nomination, and Kilmer didn't).

The next serendipitous boost to Kilmer's career came when both director Tim BURTON and actor Michael KEATON decided to abandon the Batman franchise, and director Joel SCHUMACHER was brought in to bring a lighter tone to the series; so Kilmer was suddenly asked to step into the role. And, one must admit, Kilmer was unexpectedly good as Batman—completely persuasive as indolent playboy Bruce Wayne, if a bit less persuasive as the obsessed crimefighter Batman, and much more comfortable amidst the gaudy special effects and overacting villains than Keaton had ever been. It should have been the beginning of a wonderful relationship—yet Kilmer, showing the lack of intelligence already apparent from his aimless career path, declined a part in the next Batman movie so that he could launch a series of his very own with The Saint—though, of course, a weak script and his own inadequate performance brought that "series" to an inglorious end after one film. As another ill-chosen follow-up to Batman Forever, Kilmer also accepted a role as a subordinate heavy alongside Marlon BRANDO's Moreau in John FRANKENHEIMER's The Island of Dr. Moreau; however, while other actors have been inspired by Brando's presence to do their very best, Kilmer assessed the situation differently: observing that Brando didn't really give a damn about his performance, Kilmer decided to emulate the Master. The trouble is, a lackadaisical Marlon Brando is a heck of a lot more interesting than a lackadaisical Val Kilmer—which is why, years after watching the film, you remember Brando, regardless of his foibles, and you forget whatever it was that Kilmer was doing.

With another debacle that a wise actor would have avoided—the bizarre Dead Girl—added to his filmography, no one would have expected to see Kilmer land another plum assignment. But he was yet again blessed by Lady Luck when several hotter actors declined the opportunity to star in a big-budget science fiction epic, Red Planet, forcing producers to settle for Kilmer and giving him a role that seemed tailor-made for his lazy dimwittedness—an astronaut who didn't have enough ambition to be the commanding officer, didn't have enough smarts to figure out which buddy to trust and which buddy to watch out for, and didn't have enough strength to finish an arduous trek across the Martian surface until he got a long-distance pep talk from commander Carrie-Anne Moss. Still, Kilmer ended up being the hero by happening to be in the right place at the right time—as luck would have it.

But how long can an inept actor's luck hold out? Kilmer has undoubtedly been feeling overlooked during the first decade of the twenty-first century, as few people paid any attention to a succession of routine crime dramas interspersed with occasional oddities like Deja Vu or The Ten Commandments: The Musical. He has also begun planning for retirement by getting in some practice at providing voices for animated movies—The Prince of Egypt and Delgo—although he proved hopelessly inadequate in a role where it was seemingly impossible to be hopelessly inadequate—the voice of the intelligent car in a dire revival of Glen A. LARSON's Knight Rider. (William Daniels, please come out of retirement!) But now, another strange set of circumstances may serendipitously alter the course of Kilmer's career: the office of Governor of New Mexico will soon be vacant, long-time New Mexico resident Kilmer has expressed an interest in seeking the job, and as a Democrat in a Democrat-leaning state, he might actually get elected. And, if he does end up emulating Arnold SCHWARZENEGGER by retiring from acting to pursue politics, then both Val Kilmer and his audience, for once, will be in luck.

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