Based purely on entertainment value, Mickey Rourke’s post-Wrestler comeback has been a smashing success. His wonderfully garish red-carpet outfits; his thinly veiled co-star shit-talking; his obsession with Chihuahuas: It all ends with Hollywood kicking itself for not letting Rourke back into the spotlight a long time ago. But of course, being a hilarious crazy person has its downside. Namely, being crazy! So, the question we face is, can we trust Rourke to make the right career choices when picking movies? Or will the same eccentricities that have made the world fall in love with him again lead him back to another buzz-killing fallow period? Since no rational amusement-loving person wants to see Mickey slip out of the public eye, the situation must be monitored. With Iron Man 2 — featuring Rourke as Whiplash, his most prominent role since The Wrestler’s Randy “the Ram” Robinson — in theaters next week, we break down his upcoming slate.
• Other than rumored projects (Ghengis Khan!), the biggest sign of trouble is Rourke’s next movie after Iron Man: The Expendables, the Sylvester Stallone romp populated by a bunch of aging bad-asses (out August 13). On the one hand, this totally looks like the kind of low-rent action movie Rourke would have done at any low point between, say, 1996 to 2005. On the other hand, the incomprehensible trailer suggests he only has a bit part, meaning any potential career blowback is minimal. And hopefully, being up close and personal with Stallone — who has spent the last few years making new, less effective versions of his old movies — has reminded Rourke of the lesson of The Wrestler: One must never be stuck in the past.
• Then there’s 13, a remake of a 2005 French movie, 13 Tzameti, that takes place in underground Russian-roulette clubs. The premise and trailer for the original is pretty great, plus Hollywood is letting that film’s director, Géla Babluani, helm the redo. Of course, as Funny Games and Bangkok Dangerous showed, putting a director in charge of an Americanized version of his own movie doesn’t guarantee anything. Also, potentially ominous: The presence of 50 Cent, who quickly slipped from starring in Jim Sheridan movies to shooting independently financed B-movies with Val Kilmer in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The excellent Ray Winstone and Michael Shannon are in this as well, though. Meaning: The jury’s out.
• Continuing Rourke’s ensemble trend is the recently announced Immortals, a Clash of the Titans–y blockbuster in which he plays the bad guy, King Hyperion. Presumably, like Titans, it’ll get terrible reviews and make lots of money. Then again, non-hacky director Tarsem Singh is in charge, so it could be more interesting than that. Singh is known for a rich visual style (The Cell, The Fall) and not so much for a grasp on story development: Does that mean he’ll put all his energy into figuring out a whole new way to effectively utilize Rourke’s endlessly fascinating face? Either way, Rourke’s screen time will be contained.
• That brings us to Passion Play. Here, Rourke at last returns to leading-man status, playing a jazz trumpeter who first connects with Megan Fox’s hot-chick-with-wings circus freak (one of the less commonly known circus freaks), then has to protect her from a gangster played by Bill Murray. Rourke’s certainly excited — he’s called Fox “the most talented actress I’ve worked with” — and you know what? So are we! Never mind that it’s a bit derivative of Sin City (broken-down guy protects young beauty) and, to a lesser extent, The Wrestler: It’s an unexpectedly high-profile cast for such a messy-seeming concept, meaning that if it does end up being a train wreck, it will at least be an entertaining one.
So what does this all mean for his comeback? Back in 2009, we jokingly told Rourke to “cash in your chips, score as many large paydays as possible, and wait another twenty years for Oscar to come knocking at your door again.” Minus the hyperbole, that does seem to be his plan: knock out sure-thing big-budget, critic-proof villain roles that provide built-in explanations for the face and get him action figures made in his likeness and cheeseburgers named after him; dip a toe into low-profile, odd indies; and otherwise hold tight, waiting for the right part, the one that’ll feel like a proper follow-up to The Wrestler. (And will push us to write giddy headlines like “Is [Insert Title] the Best Mickey Rourke Performance … Ever?!”)
As surprised as we are to say it, Mickey Rourke is absolutely doing the right thing. We’re sure he’s passed on a wheelbarrow’s worth of Wrestler retreads and, provided audiences don’t sour on seeing him grab every popcorn-movie paycheck he’s offered, that’s his best play: Considering his physical appearance and general public persona, there are just not that many meaty, dramatic parts he can realistically play. So hold tight, keep being charismatic onscreen and crazy off (and keep the ego in check), and have a good time until someone brings you an Oscar-bait screenplay about something other than redemption.