How the mighty do fall. Here’s the guy who was Chris Knight, Iceman, Jim Morrison, and definitively the greatest of all time gold standard version of Doc Holliday. So what the hell happened to Val Kilmer? Now, I’m not trying to mock the guy or minimize any health concerns that may have troubled him. I just mean that, from a movie role perspective… Dude. Damn. It seems like for every Salton Sea there’s an Island Of Dr. Moreau. For every Heat, there’s The Saint. Sure, one can look to any actor’s career and pick out some roles that are a bit lackluster, a little less-than. But for some reason, some of the ones on Val Kilmer’s list stick out like the proverbial painful opposable digit.
As “shining” examples, I submit a couple titles from the late 2000s. The first is The Thaw (2009). Certainly not the greatest movie ever but also not the worst. Plus I love the idea of weird shit thawing out and coming to get us. Far fetched? Far off in the future? Maybe a little Black Mirror? Not at all. Okay certainly The Thaw isn’t breaking any new ground. We can go back to 1951 and draw a line from The Thing From Another World to Beware! The Blob to (obviously) The Thing to The X-Files to The Thaw to Black Mountain Side to Fortitude.
The Thaw is still a pretty good little ride though. Up in the winter wonderland that is the Canadian Arctic, Dr. David Kruipen (Kilmer) and company discover the frozen remains of a wooly mammoth but not before the carcass is also discovered by a polar bear. Well, the bear ends up on the more unfortunate side of dead, and the whole crew begins to suffer. At one point, one of the research team members touches the bear and gets bit by something. That can’t end well. Kilmer isn’t bad and still looks passably like he could get away with “I’m your huckleberry.”
Well, everything plays out more or less as you would expect: infestation, insanity, creepy crawly CGI bugs, man is the problem monologue, uh-oh ending. It’s predictable, but it’s fun.
And yet, merely a scant year later will bring us The Traveler, one of those all too frequent, this-bodes-well, direct-to-video releases. Here, Kilmer plays the vengeful spirit of a man tortured to death in police custody who returns to rain down retribution upon the heads of his victimizers. A little High Plains Drifter and The Crow so it’s a solid enough premise. And it takes place on christmas eve, and it’s no secret how much we Castle Blogferatu denizens love to lounge about of a cold holiday evening and be cheered by a heartwarming, open fire & chestnuts tale of a cold holiday evening.
Again, I don’t know what Kilmer’s deal was at the time, but the lad does not look well. I don’t wanna come right out and say he was wooden, but I strongly considered the relative merits of taking some sandpaper to my television, or at least a little blast of Pledge (and not because I only dust once a quarter).
I mean, this movie is bad y’all, and so not in any remotely enjoyable way. Slow, predictable, and worst of all forgettable, The Traveler doesn’t even try to mask its shortcomings under gore. IMDB says it’s rated R because of “strong bloody violence and pervasive language,” but I don’t remember anything especially stand-out amongst what piled up bodies there were.
So, yeah…let’s call this a study in, I dunno, bad choices, contractual obligation, cash grabbing? I got no way of knowing.