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— by Ben Cosgrove and Carl Davis

Not too long ago, mentioning the name "Mickey Rourke" would likely elicit one question: "Whatever happened to that guy?" After flirting with fame in movies like "Diner" and "The Pope of Greenwich Village," Rourke's career and life veered off into increasingly odd territory. He was arrested for spousal abuse in 1994, acquired a reputation as a troublemaker on film sets, and for a few years was a professional boxer (compiling, incidentally, a winning record).

But all the while, he kept acting — sometimes in irredeemable crap (like "Double Team," with Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dennis Rodman), and occasionally in more substantial films (Sean Penn's "The Pledge," for instance, with Jack Nicholson, Benicio Del Toro and others). With his astonishing characterization of the sentimental man-monster Marv in "Sin City" (released this week on DVD), Rourke proves himself, once again, an actor worth watching. For fans, and for the just plain curious, here's an (admittedly incomplete) list of some of his weirdest and most memorable roles.

"Man on Fire" (2004)

Rourke is only onscreen for a few minutes at a time in this Tony Scott explode-a-thon, but his character (a supremely slimy lawyer) is so wonderfully reprehensible and creepy that the moment his first scene is over, you're eagerly awaiting his next appearance. Sure the film takes itself a bit too seriously, but Denzel Washington gives another of his patented powerhouse performances — as a bodyguard seemingly in over his head in Mexico City — and Rourke is joined by a whole menagerie of other terrific minor characters slithering through the sun-drenched scenery.

"Once Upon a Time in Mexico" (2003)

While it occasionally feels like a student film made by a student with a lot of money and some very talented friends, this Robert Rodriguez movie is generally entertaining, it has a tremendous cast — Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe — and Rourke again manages to stand out despite the considerable star power around him. As Billy, a softhearted hit man who carries his pet Chihuahua around like a good luck charm, the actor comes off like an antisocial cartoon character — but one that you'd really like to have a beer with.

"Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man" (1991)

In the near future, corporations are so corrupt that they foreclose on people's businesses in the front and deal a drug called "The Dream" out the back. When the bank comes calling on the local watering hole that Harley (a leather-clad Rourke) and Marlboro (a Stetson-wearing Don Johnson) call their second home, the two icons of Americana decide to rob an armored-car shipment to quickly raise the dough — but wind up with the aforementioned drug rather than the expected millions. The bank sends out a goon squad (bearing more than a passing resemblance to the Trench Coat Mafia) led by the forgotten Baldwin, Daniel, to try and get their product back. A profound, before-its-time message-movie about the dangers of corporate mergers and globalization? A rough-and-tumble, goofball action flick celebrating the American "free spirit"? A campy good time? Two out of three ain't bad.

"Wild Orchid" (1990) / "9 1/2 Weeks" (1986)

Soft-core auteur Zalman King had a hand in each of these films, writing both of them and directing "Wild Orchid." (Adrian Lyne gets credit for directing the other.) The storylines, meanwhile, are so similar as to be almost interchangeable — a mysterious, laconic rich guy (Rourke) embarks on an erotic journey with
a willing, malleable beauty (Kim Basinger in "9 1/2," and his real-life wife-to-be Carré Otis in "Orchid"), every acrobatic position of which is lovingly chronicled by the unblinking camera. One of Rourke and Otis' love scenes caused such a stir — they allegedly were not exactly acting while they went at it — that it had to be heavily edited down before the film could be released. Fear not: It's been fully restored for the DVD release.

"Johnny Handsome" (1989)

Director Walter Hill's gritty crime thriller pits small-time con Rourke against his former partner, played by cult film icon Lance Henriksen. What makes the flick so interesting is that for the first half, Rourke plays completely against type as a physically deformed loser. That is, until an experimental operation restores him to the brooding tough guy we all knew was hiding under that makeup in the first place. With the always talented Forrest Whitaker and Morgan Freeman in key supporting roles, this is a cut above your average crime thriller.

"Barfly" (1987)

Rourke had a lot to live up to playing alcoholic writer Henry Chinaski, the alter ego of the late, great real-life Los Angeles writer and legendary drunkard Charles Bukowski. Directed by longtime Bukowski collaborator Barbet Schroeder and co-starring Faye Dunaway, the film follows Henry and Wanda as they stagger around modern-day Los Angeles, seeking out solace and booze (but mostly booze). For these two self-professed losers life is about drinking, fighting and screwing — not necessarily in that order. When Henry's writing finally catches the attention of a big-time publisher, the movie takes an unexpected turn. Will he be able to lift himself out of the gutter, or will his mile-wide self-destructive streak ruin everything?

"Angel Heart" (1987)

With "Angel Heart," British director Alan Parker crafted an intense horror film in the guise of a noir thriller. Rourke plays Harry Angel, a detective in 1950s New York hired by the mysterious Lou Cyphre, played with appropriate menace by Robert De Niro, to locate a missing singer by the name of Johnny Favorite. It seems that everyone Harry talks to about Johnny's whereabouts meets with an untimely demise. The investigation eventually leads him to the heart of the Louisiana bayou, where Lisa Bonet and a voodoo cult are waiting. Rourke has a reputation for bringing a certain authenticity to his onscreen love scenes, and the one here between he and Bonet is no exception. In fact it almost garnered the film an X rating before being edited to a suitable level of lewdness for the film's theatrical release. And in answer to your question, yes, the unedited scene can be found on the DVD.

"Year of the Dragon" (1985)

An underappreciated crime drama from director Michael "The Deer Hunter" Cimino (with a screenplay co-written by Oliver Stone), "Year of the Dragon" might just feature the best performance of Rourke's career. As a highly decorated, racist Vietnam vet and New York City cop named Stanley White, Rourke brings an intensity and loneliness to the role that gives a real good indication of why folks thought he might be the next De Niro or Pacino. John Lone is also excellent as the young, ruthless Chinese gang leader who inevitably comes into conflict with the uncompromising (and unsubtly named) White.

"The Pope of Greenwich Village" (1984)

Charlie and Paulie are cousins. Paulie (Eric Roberts) is a none-too-smart, scheming, two-bit hustler. Charlie (Rourke) is a funny, charming guy who just wants to own his own restaurant in New York someday. When Paulie ropes Charlie into a dangerously hare-brained scheme involving a race horse, a safe that's just begging to be cracked and the local mob boss, life suddenly gets very complicated for both of them. Roberts and Rourke are utterly believable as the mismatched cousins, and every shot in the movie feels, all these years later, like a postcard from a romanticized New York City that no longer exists — and maybe never did, except in Hollywood's imagination.

"Diner" (1982)

Some people hate this movie. They find it dull, overly sentimental and hopelessly nostalgic. But those people are, generally speaking, idiots. "Diner" is a sweet, smart, funny film that, thanks in large part to Rourke's performance as Robert "Boogie" Sheftell, remains a thoroughly entertaining evocation and depiction of a very specific time and place: Baltimore in 1959. Note: If you have never witnessed the scene in the movie theater where Boogie creatively makes use of a carton of popcorn in order to win a bet — well, you're missing a quite legendary moment in American cinematic history. Enough said.

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Photos: Dimension Films

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