Most actors have a bag of expressions they use to put an individual stamp on their roles. For Humphrey Bogart, it was a significant puff on a cigarette followed by rapid-fire dialogue. For Clark Gable, it was a tomcat smile, with eyebrows raised. For Errol Flynn, it was a “roguish grin.”
Closer to today, Tom Cruise routinely grips the shoulders of his leading ladies to express intensity. Clint Eastwood scowls and then delivers a tight-lipped hiss to show boiling anger.
In “The Intruder,” Dennis Quaid dispenses with his “good ol’ boy” grin, which he played on for quite a long time. It was first established when he was cast as rocket ace Gordo Cooper in the chest-thumping “The Right Stuff.” At its best, this grin could express supreme self-confidence as well as a cocky put-down of his competitors.
As the psychopathic stalker Charlie in “The Intruder,” Quaid instead uses his aging, craggy features to convey menace. Quaid never goes over the top. It is a controlled performance. He is as menacing when mowing the yard of the home he had to give up due to financial mismanagement as he is when hugging the shadows of this home, now occupied by an affluent African-America couple.
Unfortunately, Quaid is the only good part of the movie. As the yuppie couple, Scott Ealy and Megan Good do the best they can. The filmmakers do not use this racial role reversal (African-American yuppies in contrast to Quaid’s working class financial failure) for dramatic effect. The only concession to our current zeitgeist is by featuring Megan Good’s character as a writer focusing on “injustice and empowerment” for a women’s magazine. But the filmmakers are clearly bored with this idea, as they don’t show Good tapping as much as one laptop key.
It is a requirement for horror/slasher films that the characters exhibit a certain amount of stupidity. If they were smart they would never open the creaky door or go down the darkened stairs, thus depriving viewers of the horror.
But this movie has taken stupidity to new depths. Good is amazingly oblivious to Quaid’s growing sexual obsession with her. Not even his frequent uninvited appearances, usually coinciding with her businessman husband being out of town, cause her unease. She invites the clearly certifiable Quaid in for a pizza.
In “Pacific Heights,” Melanie Griffith did have trademark spacey moments, but she got villain Michael Keaton’s number from the start and began turning his conman games against him. Good has no alarm bells until pretty late in the film, even though Quaid, a much better actor than Keaton in displaying menace, has all but screamed he is going to shred her and her husband. She doesn’t have the wit to realize that the strange bumps in the night are because Quaid is living in their basement.
Ealy and Good do the best they can, but the lackluster script defeats them at every turn. This is unforgivable given that the screenwriter (David Loughery) was capable of complexity over cliché as in a much better film, “Lakeview Terrace.” Here he didn’t traffic in one-dimensional menace but gave the audience both sides of the characters.
Samuel Jackson, a much better actor than Ealy, was undoubtedly racist toward his new interracial neighbors in “Lakeview Terrace,” but the couple, Luke Wilson and Kerry Washington, complicated things by having sex in their pool within full view of Jackson, a single father valiantly trying to raise his daughter.
Quaid is an interesting and accomplished actor, not afraid to play against type. And it is clear he is having a ball playing a homicidal nut. Unfortunately, this is not enough to save a film that would have been derided even in the heyday of this genre—the ’90s.