The notion of destiny — right person, right place at precisely the right instant — underlies Robert Downey Jr.'s film-noir caper "Kiss Kiss...

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TORONTO — The notion of destiny — right person, right place at precisely the right instant — underlies Robert Downey Jr.’s film-noir caper “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.”

Even as he cracks wise about destiny guiding real life, Downey ends up embracing the thought that his journey from brat-pack star to Academy Award nominee to addict and jailbird to Hollywood-reclamation project had providence behind it.

After recurring drug and alcohol problems in the 1990s, prison time, court-ordered rehab and probation that ended in 2002, the clean and sober Downey has a new wife and a career as busy and as varied as he’s ever had.

“I think part of my destiny has to be realizing that I’m not the poster boy for drug abuse,” Downey told The Associated Press at the Toronto International Film Festival, where “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” played. “I’m just this guy who has a really strong sense of wanting home and wanting foundation and having not had it, I now choose to create it.”

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Downey, 40, connects the dots that brought him to “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang,” a comic crime tale in which he plays a petty crook who blunders into a shot at a Hollywood audition and a training session with a private eye (Val Kilmer) working as a movie adviser.

“I think Robert has changed a bit since we were last familiar with him in that he’s not a bratty kid anymore. You look at him and you see a man. He grew up,” writer-director Shane Black said. “His face is different, his manner is different. He has a gravity that he didn’t have before.”

“Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” is a whirlwind of action, dialogue and wry voice-overs by Downey, the film contorting Hollywood conventions of the detective story while simultaneously embracing them.

Downey’s thief-turned-actor-turned-gumshoe does all the wrong things and somehow lands on his feet, a story arc resembling the actor’s own.

The son of underground filmmaker Robert Downey, the actor made his first screen appearances as a boy in some of his father’s movies. Downey co-starred in Rodney Dangerfield’s “Back to School” and earned one of his first starring roles in James Toback’s “The Pick-up Artist.”

He had an Oscar nomination for the title role in 1992’s “Chaplin.” After that success, Downey’s life began to spin out of control with a decade of fitful career choices and a party that seemed it would never end.

As his partying days wound down, Downey had a brief career resurgence with an acclaimed role in “Wonder Boys” and a stint on “Ally McBeal,” a job he lost amid a new round of cocaine arrests.

Now, Downey talks of healthy preoccupations, his wife; his son from a previous marriage; his fitness regimen; and his work, which is piling up rapidly.

Downey co-stars in George Clooney’s drama “Good Night, and Good Luck,” and has three movies due out in 2006: “Fur,” with Nicole Kidman as photographer Diane Arbus; “A Scanner Darkly,” a sci-fi tale starring Keanu Reeves; and a remake of Disney’s “The Shaggy Dog” with Tim Allen.

In his next project, director David Fincher’s “Zodiac,” Downey plays a journalist investigating the serial murderer known as the Zodiac Killer. Downey also hopes to play Edgar Allan Poe in a film about the 19th-century author.

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