Dennis Quaid in The Intruder (Photo: Sony / Screen Gems)
* (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Deon Taylor
STARS Dennis Quaid, Michael Ealy
One of my post-college roommates had a friend who one night decided to impress the ladies in our midst by ripping open a beer can with his teeth. Being of the redneck persuasion, this probably seemed like a sensible way to show off his manly manliness. Alas, while performing the feat, he ended up slashing open his hand with the razor-sharp edge of the now torn-asunder can. As others rushed to get him towels and bandages, I could only sit there and wonder how we were going to get the blood out of the carpet.
It’s not that I’m heartless, mind you — I still shed tears when reading stories about mass shootings, abused animals, and children detained at the border — it’s just that it was hard for me to sympathize with someone who was basically an unrepentant dumb-ass. And a similar feeling settled on me as I watched The Intruder, a terrible movie that ranks way down there on the home-invasion scale (below Cold Creek Manor, below Unlawful Entry, maybe even below The Strangers). If the protagonists in this film were any more dense, they would only exist as a thick fog.
The pair in question are Scott and Annie Howard (Michael Ealy and Meagan Good), well-to-do San Franciscans who opt to buy a house further out in the country. Annie falls in love with the $3-million-plus house owned by Charlie Peck (Dennis Quaid), who claims he’s planning to move to Florida to live with his grown daughter right after he sells the property. But after the Howards purchase the home and the ample land surrounding it, they find they can’t get rid of Charlie. He shows up unexpected and uninvited at all hours of the day and night. Clearly, there’s something off about this guy, but Annie treats him like family, inviting him to Thanksgiving dinner and allowing him to help out with the Christmas decorations. Scott is far more wary around the man, although even he thinks nothing of allowing his wife to spend plenty of time home alone while he’s off working and playing in the big city.
The Intruder proves to be a thriller so obvious that viewers could dot every narrative i and cross every fictional t before the screenplay was even written. (As one example, there’s a reason a linen closet is the focus of attention in roughly 326 scenes, and it’s not to showcase the folding techniques of the inhabitants.) But it’s the imbecilic nature of the Howards that really grates on the nerves, with viewers asking all the obvious questions that these married twits never even think to formulate. Admittedly, it’s a pet peeve, but it’s generally impossible for me to throw my support behind protagonists who have even less common sense than a newborn kitten.
As the neighborly nut, Quaid starts off fine before exploding in full psycho mode, complete with Jack-Nicholson-as-Jack-Torrance quips (“Lights out!” Charlie bellows before shooting out a chandelier). Still, even though he’s the villain, we’re obviously meant to admire him as he ultimately teaches these soft city slickers a thing or two. An outdoorsy type, he lives for his collection of shotguns (in fact, his introduction in the film finds him blowing away a deer); conversely, Scott refuses to even allow firearms on his property. So guess who’s brandishing a shotgun before the final credits, in a last-gasp effort to save his family and perhaps even restore his own sense of manhood? When it comes to the act of telegraphing, Western Union has nothing on this stuffed turkey.