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Del Toro es mí amor-O!

Common lore says that Benico Del Toro's career took flight after a memorable bit part in The Usual Suspects--his enchanting bedroom eyes and nine mumbled lines kicking him into the upper echelons of the Hollywood A-list. But in fact, the world's most famous living Puerto Rican started long before, with a 1987 small-screen debut in a Miami Vice episode followed by his 1988 big-screen debut as "Duke the Dog-Faced Boy" in Big Top Pee-Wee. And while some newspapers would dredge up these embarrassing roles as a cheap form of comedy (such as the drug-lord flunky in License to Kill or the despicable rapist in the equally deplorable swashbuckler, Christopher Columbus: The Discovery), we at the Mercury always look to the positive. Bearing this in mind, here are a few pre-fame highlights in which Benicio's star cannot help but shine brightly.

China Moon (1991)--A temperate rip-off of Body Heat, Madeleine Stowe plays the conniving wife who seduces a cop into killing her heavy-handed husband. In a role foreshadowing his shadowy performance in Traffic, Del Toro plays a soft-spoken rookie detective who is far more clever than his dopey good looks indicate.

Indian Runner (1991)--Based on Springsteen's "Highway Patrolman," and Sean Penn's directorial debut, this is a stark and surprisingly thoughtful Cain and Able story. Set in Nebraska, a hotheaded brother returns home from Vietnam to seduce farm girls, pick fights, and otherwise aggravate his law-abiding policeman brother. In what has otherwise been a knuckle-headed career, Charles Bronson brilliantly plays the boys' father and Del Toro plays Miguel, the badass buddy.

Swimming With Sharks (1994)--This bitter-pill Hollywood satire plays out the dream of every abused intern and office lackey in America. After taking one-thousand-and-one tongue lashings, Guy (Frank Whaley), a budding screen writer, kidnaps his charming, but horribly abusive boss, Buddy (Kevin Spacey). Del Toro shines as--no, not a drug runner, no, not a psychotic killer--he's Spacey's former "personal assistant!"

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