Casting an actor or actress against-type is always a gamble. Sometimes it works out (Robin Williams in One Hour Photo) and other times it doesn’t (Keanu Reeves in Bram Stoker’s Dracula). If there’s something to be said for casting against-type, however, it’s that the performances are rarely boring, no matter how bad they might be. When it does work, it can bring even the worst films a certain level of watchability. That is exactly what The Intruder offers: a painfully by-the-numbers home invasion/stalking thriller that boasts a fantastic piece of against-type casting in Dennis Quaid as its titular villain.
In The Intruder, Scott (Michael Ealy, The Perfect Guy, next year’s Jacob’s Ladder remake) and Annie (Meagan Good, Saw V, The Unborn) Howard buy their dream home in Napa Valley from charming widower Charlie Peck (Dennis Quaid, Pandorum, Legion). Little do the Howards know that Charlie isn’t too willing to let his home go, and they are soon caught in a dangerous game of cat and mouse with the increasingly unhinged former owner, who has a dark secret hidden under is friendly demeanor.
Over the last 11 years, screenwriter David Loughery has “gifted” us with trashy thrillers like, Obsessed (review), Nurse 3D (review) and Lakeview Terrace (writing the first one by himself and working with a co-writer on the latter two). Only one of those truly delivered on the campy hilarity of its premise (that would be Nurse 3D), so where does The Intruder fall into the mix? Somewhere in between. While it’s certainly an improvement over Obsessed, a film that should have been a lot more fun than it was, it doesn’t have the dementedly enjoyable quality that Nurse 3D has in spades. Bear in mind that none of these films are “good,” but the more they lean into their ridiculous qualities the better they end up being. The Intruder too often straddles the line of taking itself seriously and embracing its camp, failing to just pick a side and run with it. That proves to be its undoing.
There are some ostentatious moments sprinkled throughout the film (again, mostly through Quaid’s performance and some of Loughery’s more laughable lines of dialogue), but the film just doesn’t follow through. Other than a sequence in which Charlie spies on Annie as she takes a shower (which seems destined to lead to masturbation but ends up going nowhere) and a scene of tongue-y almost-rape that is tasteless at best and extremely misguided at worst (this would be less of a problem had the film truly committed to camp), The Intruder is rather toothless. It would rather rely on awkward scenes of Charlie suddenly showing up at the Howard’s new residence, inserting himself into their lives to hilarious effect. Were it not for Quaid’s insane energy during these scenes, The Intruder would be a rather dull affair.
Also working against the film are plot points that Loughery repeatedly introduces that come to nothing (foxglove, the poisonous flower that the Howard’s new home used to grow in abundance, is brought up so often that it might as well be called Chekhov’s foxglove if it actually held any significance to the plot). He also tries to inject some extramarital conflict into the seemingly happy relationship of Scott and Annie, but that subplot could have been removed from the film and it wouldn’t make any difference (sans for a tighter runtime). And the less said about half-baked attempts to make statements on gun control and race relations the better. One can’t help but wonder if there is a longer cut of the film out there that helps develop some of these abandoned plot points. Surely there must be, right?
Under Deon Taylor‘s (Meet the Blacks, Traffik) direction, The Intruder doesn’t fully succeed at being a thriller, with very little tension being built throughout the film’s 102-minute runtime. Be prepared for lots of camera pans that slowly reveal Charlie standing in a corner or sudden jump scares in which he knocks on a door or pops up behind Annie. It’s quite pedestrian, and doesn’t make for the most thrilling of thrillers. It’s not poorly-directed, mind you. It’s just not particularly inspired.
And yet. And yet. Dennis Quaid is so over-the-top glorious in this movie that it almost earns the movie a full recommendation in and of itself. He lights a fire under the film every second he is on screen, making some choices that could be called good, some that could be called inadvisable and some that are just plain ridiculous. Either way, you’ll want to watch whatever movie Quaid thinks he’s in, because that movie looks insanely entertaining.
Ealy and Good are unfortunately stuck playing straight to Quaid’s Nicolas Cage-like performance, which means their scenes together are when the film suffers most. They just aren’t interesting characters. This is through no fault of the actors (they do what they can with their underwritten roles). Not helping matters is the fact that Annie is so stupid, constantly buying into Charlie’s act well past its sell-by date that you might find yourself thinking she has whatever Charlie has planned for her coming (she doesn’t, but it doesn’t make her poor choices any less frustrating). Scott, on the other hand, is kind of a douchebag, so by the time he starts to catch on to Charlie’s act you might find it difficult to empathize with him.
Let’s be honest though: the real draw here is to see Quaid cut loose in an unhinged role, and boy oh boy does he deliver. If you’ve seen the trailer for The Intruder, you probably have a good idea of how everything will play out. Genuine surprises are few and far between (even the final scene, which initially seems ballsy as hell, calls to mind a very similar ending from a certain Julia Roberts thriller from the early ’90s), so it falls on the actors to sell the admittedly mediocre material. Quaid is more than up to the challenge, and Ealy & Good do what they can.
A theatrically-released Lifetime movie, The Intruder is not a good movie, but it is a fun one. While never scary or thrilling, it’s stupid enough to make for a fun Friday night at the movies (after you’ve had a few, of course). The press screening for the film encouraged the viewers to “watch out loud” by vocalizing their reactions as loud as they wanted to while they watched. If that sounds obnoxious it’s because it is, but it actually did make for a memorable viewing experience. Based on the laughs heard in the audience, everyone thought this was a comedy. If only anyone involved with the film (besides Quaid, because he gets it) thought that too.
Sony Pictures will release The Intruder in theaters nationwide on May 3, 2019.