The name Robert Downey Jr. is known the world over, linked forever to the character of Iron Man, tied irrevocably to the tragic fate he embraced in order to destroy Thanos and save the world. But before the actor took on the role of Tony Stark, there were other memorable characters he gave his charm to.
Of course you know the popular ones, like his role in Tropic Thunder or him playing Charlie Chaplin in a biopic, but the ones I will be fleshing out in this article aren’t as well-known. It has been quite the nostalgia trip to revisit these older films that may not have made it onto your radar, but there is enough substance there to warrant a mention and a rewatch.
1. Chances Are (1989)
Chances Are is a romantic comedy, starring Cybil Shepherd, Robert Downey Jr., Ryan O’Neal and Mary Stuart Masterson. The main character Louie Jefferies (Christopher McDonald) is very much in love with his wife Corinne (Shepherd). They share a wonderful life together, and after one year of marriage, Corinne tells him she’s expecting. However, things take a turn for the worse when Louie dies in a road accident. When he arrives in heaven (the movie’s idea of heaven involves a lot of queuing and red tape), he finds himself unable to let go of the life he had, and requests to head back to earth, which involves reincarnation.
Despite being reborn as a new person named Alex Finch (Downey Jr.), when he visits his old house, he finds himself recollecting memories of his past life. It’s quite a funny thing to see Downey Jr. woo Shepherd’s Corinne, especially when he looks more like her son than lover, but it is truly Downey Jr. at his most charming. This is a film one shouldn’t heavily analyse; just accept the laughs and the romance, and acknowledge that we will always find our way back to the people we love.
2. Heart and Souls (1993)
Heart and Souls is probably one of my most favourite feel-good movies. I watched it years ago, and was completely enamoured with Robert Downey Jr. after that. Downey Jr. plays Thomas, and from the moment he was born, there were four souls attached to him. These individuals have unfinished business to deal with because their lives were taken from them so suddenly, but somehow, signals got mixed and nobody informed them of what they had to do. They were like family to Thomas, teaching him, loving him, until it became too complicated for them to continue to let him see them. While Thomas’ interactions with them were viewed as him playing with imaginary friends, his parents reach the end of their tether when they feel this imaginary business has gone out of hand.
Years later, they finally find out what they have to do, and how Thomas’ body is a vessel to use, so that they can finish what they need to do. This produces quite a few entertaining sequences where Downey Jr. has to take on the persona of the relevant character. He slips into each role with such ease and comedy, and it is truly such a fun, heartwarming movie. Be warned though, gentle sobbing is most likely a guaranteed event while watching this film.
3. Only You (1994)
Before Downey Jr. and Marisa Tomei were their respective Marvel characters, they starred in a romantic comedy called Only You, and boy were they fire together. Tomei plays Faith, and when she was a young girl, was told by a fortune teller that a man named Damon Bradley is the name of her true love. Of course years go by, and while Faith is a romantic, she seems to be compromising in the romance department by agreeing to marry her rather dull podiatrist fiance. This all changes when an old classmate of her fiance’s calls the apartment, whose name happens to be Damon Bradley, and the man is leaving for Venice.
So what’s a girl to do? Head over to Venice and try to look for him, of course. In Italy, she runs into Downey Jr., who runs after her holding her missing shoe. As he chivalrously puts the shoe back on her foot, he hears that she’s looking for a Damon Bradley and announces that he’s Damon Bradley. Or is he? Lots of shenaigans ensue, but the main idea the movie is asking us to consider is our relationship with fate and choice. Do we believe life is fated for us, that the names of our true loves are foretold before we are even born, or do we have the agency to love the people we want to love? I think we all know the answer to that question.
4. U.S. Marshals (1998)
U.S Marshals suffers from being the much maligned sequel to the superior film The Fugitive. Basically, it just rehashes the same beats from the earlier film, with Wesley Snipes’ character Sheridan the one on the run instead of Harrison Ford’s Dr Richard Kimble. Tommy Lee Jones resumes his role of Samuel Gerard, set to track down Sheridan for the supposed homicide he committed.
Sure, it doesn’t offer much innovation on the original premise, but it was still fun to watch. Robert Downey Jr. as U.S Marshall Royce is just deliciously riotous, and offers a nice contrast to Jones’ gruff and grumpy Gerard. Downey Jr. holds his own against the veteran actor, and delivers a performance that makes the movie worth watching – in my opinion at least.
5. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
Everybody talks about The Nice Guys, but before that film could even walk, Shane Black directed Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, with Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer teaming up to solve a murder mystery. Downey Jr.’s Harry Lockhart stumbles into an audition room after running away from the police, and delivers such a convincing performance they sign him right away. That’s how he ends up at a fancy L.A party, and crosses paths with Private Eye Perry (Kilmer) and Harmony Faith (Michelle Monahan).
The film is wonderfully meta, self-aware, witty and absolutely hilarious. It might be slightly more well-known compared to the other mentions on this list, but still woefully underrated. Believe me, a Downey Jr. and Kilmer pairing never crossed my mind (much like The Nice Guy’s Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling), yet it works so impeccably well.
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