Debate: Is Robert Downey Jr. a sellout?

Cast member Robert Downey Jr. poses at the premiere of "Iron Man 3" at El Capitan theatre...

Cast member Robert Downey Jr. poses at the premiere of "Iron Man 3" at El Capitan theatre in Hollywood, California April 24, 2013. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Jim Slotek and Liz Braun, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:32 PM ET

JIM SLOTEK, QMI Agency

No underdog has ever shot to the top of the blockbuster heap amid as many cheers as Robert Downey Jr. So why hate on him now?

It wasn't just because he'd kicked a Lindsay Lohan-magnitude drug problem (although, for what it's worth, you're reading the words of someone who thinks LiLo might still stage that comeback).

What really got everyone behind him when he put on that Iron Man suit was that, even effed up, he'd been one of the greatest actors of his generation.

In the '80s, he was pretty much the only "Brat Pack" member who didn't end up a joke. Put it this way, who do you remember from Less Than Zero? (Other than James Spader, who'd go on to a long career playing yuppie scum). Andrew McCarthy? Jami Gertz?

There was that Oscar nomination (and a British BAFTA win) in his 20s for Chaplin, and his scene-stealing turn as an Aussie tabloid journalist in Natural Born Killers.

No matter how many kids' bedrooms he passed out in, somebody always saw him as worth gambling on. One such somebody was Shane Black, who put his own money behind the uninsurable actor to star him in the dark action-comedy Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. That performance convinced Jon Favreau that Downey was his Iron Man. Black, in turn, just directed Downey in Iron Man 3. It's the circle of life.

So by accounts, RDJ has been clean for 10 years. And what has he done with his time? Made millions of dollars, mainly on the backs of Tony Stark and Sherlock Holmes - neither of which characters will ever win him Oscars. (Although between blockbusters, he did cop another Oscar nom for Tropic Thunder and gave a powerful performance in the underrated Zodiac).

He's not the first actor to ever go for action bucks. In fact, in one of my favourite movies, Wonder Boys, Michael Douglas, co-starred with Downey and another young phenom named Tobey Maguire, who'd soon trade in his cred for a Spider-Man costume (and Katie Holmes, who'd trade hers for a wedding ring from Tom Cruise).

Downey's been through hell, self-created or not, and he deserves his payday. One decade of green-screen doesn't negate the actor we know him to be.

And while Marvel does own a piece of him for a while, Downey does have enough money to do whatever small, smart movies he wants. In fact, he could finance them himself.

I doubt that Chef, the comedy that's reuniting him with Favreau is the ticket back to respectability for Downey. I don't even know if he is inclined to ever again work on a film with a budget less than the gross national product of a small African nation.

All I know is that if he decides to flex his artistic muscles again, I'll be right there, ticket in hand.

And if he doesn't, that's all right too. He has nothing to prove to me, Ms Liz or anyone else at this point.

LIZ BRAUN, QMI Agency

Remember how you felt when you saw Bob Dylan shilling for Victoria's Secret?

How about when St. Bob was promoting the Cadillac Escalade?

You probably hoped we'd never have to talk about such things again.

But now Robert Downey Jr. has gone and done an ad campaign for HTC phones. The company hopes to emphasize its superior technical features, and who better for that job that Iron Man?

Is there something tragic about this, or is it just us?

Rumour has it HTC will pay Downey $12 million to help them build their brand over two years. The campaign involves lots of jokey things HTC could stand for (Hold The Cat! Huge Tinfoil Catamaran!) but "Here's To Change" is the basic slogan.

Yeah, sure, here's to change -- but not if these ads prove to be the slippery slope of sell-out for one of Hollywood's very best actors.

Robert Downey Jr. can advance his swagger any way he chooses, but what happened to the guy who starred in movies like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Zodiac or Tropic Thunder?

Has the actor lost his mojo? Left it in his other pants, perhaps?

Do you think The Avengers fanboys would recognize their hero in something like The Singing Detective or Wonder Boys?

Downey is known for his quick wit, for his darkly self-deprecating public persona and for his honesty. He has said in interviews that he wanted to do a good job in Iron Man 2 because he felt the fan expectations. The guy is keen.

The pity of it is that he's keen in just the sort of movies -- Sherlock Holmes, Iron Man, The Avengers -- that get made at the expense of everything else. The smaller, smarter, increasingly vanishing middle-budget movies have those massive franchise films to thank for their extinction.

There's probably some irony in there somewhere that it was in those clever, middle-budget movies that Downey made his reputation as a unique talent. Is he ever going to do any acting again?

Don't misunderstand -- we loved Iron Man and The Avengers as much as the next guy. It's the cash-grab cycle of sequels that seems so out of character for the actor.

Downey is currently the highest-paid actor in Hollywood, having earned $75 million this past year, according to Forbes magazine. There's been an on-going kerfuffle over his payday for Avengers 2 and 3; speculation runs to the $100 million mark, but Downey's wealth isn't the issue. The issue is what that means to the rest of the cast, whose salaries look like chump change by comparison.

Will Downey's big score for the Avengers' sequels wind up being about inspiration or resentment with the rest of the cast?

The fact that Downey isn't hurting for money makes the cell phone ads that much more off-putting. Maybe at 48, he feels he has to rake it in while he can. Maybe that new baby has inspired him to switch sides from grasshopper to ant; we feel compelled to remind you that there are two interpretations of that fable.

It's none of our business if Robert Downey Jr. wants to get what he can while his career is robust. He can go on to sell big American cars or adult diapers if he likes, and maybe some wag will sign him up to front an expensive vodka. Ha, ha.

Nobody could object to Downey being successful. It's just weird to see such a singular guy embracing the trappings of the very lifestyle for which he seemed to be the antidote.

Sadly, comparisons to Johnny Depp are right around the corner.


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