Just saw the preview for the upcoming G.I. Joe and I was struck by one thing. No, not the epic awfulness of the trailer—I’m a film critic, I don’t pre-judge (ahem). But this: What the hell has happened to Dennis Quaid?
In my day, Dennis Quaid was sex on legs— the randiest, cockiest, most irresistible cad in cinema. It wasn’t just his six-pack abs and chiseled face that made him catnip for women—it was the fact that he knew he was bad and that you still couldn’t resist him. All of this bad boy charisma peaked in 1986’s The Big Easy where he played a casually corrupt New Orleans cop who seduces an uptight prosecutor played by Ellen Barkin (herself no slouch in the sex appeal department). But there were other parts that relied on his do-me grin and cocksure charm: Postcards from the Edge, Something to Talk About, Innerspace, Wyatt Earp, and Suspect, just to name a few.
But lately, all Quaid seems to play are uptight generals (as in GI Joe and Yours Mine and Ours), secret service men (Vantage Point), hardnosed coaches (The Express), the freakin' president of the United States of America (in American Dreamz, where he did Dubya, and the upcoming The Special Relationship, where he tries his hand at Clinton), and earnest athletes (The Rookie, Any Given Sunday). More often than not, his face is set in a determined scowl, not about to burst into a Cheshire Cat grin. If he's not playing buzz-cutted militaristic types, he's playing frumpy sad sacks, like in In Good Company or Smart People. He seems to have had some sort of charisma lobotomy.
Now, before you start talking about how Quaid is simply naturally maturing into more seasoned parts—he’s 55—let me say this: The likes of Sean Connery, Al Pacino, and Jack Nicholson all managed to play sexy well into their 60s. And have you seen Quaid lately? He's still lookin' pretty damn good.
In fact, there is another actor who’s career trajectory closely resembles Quaid’s: Harrison Ford.
Like Quaid, Ford was a cavalier charmer. Like Quaid, Ford is remarkably well-preserved (squint a bit and he still looks like his ol' Indy self). And like Quaid, Ford seems to think that having fun on screen is somehow unbecoming for a man of his age and stature. (I’m tempted to throw Tom Hanks into this mix. Dude needs to do lose the drippy Da Vinci movies and do another romantic comedy with Meg Ryan—STAT!)
In the case of Ford, I actually suspect that he’s lost his natural ease in front of the camera—he’s become a very self-conscious man (he rarely gives interviews and when he does, they’re borderline painful to watch). But Quaid? Frankly I don’t know what’s going on with him. Maybe it is simply a matter of Hollywood ageism. Maybe Quaid is dying to play another roguish seducer, but no one’s offering him the part. If so, shame on Hollywood for being so short-sighted.
But if Quaid is actually choosing these steel-jawed men because he thinks that’s what the people want, he’s dead wrong. Bring sexy back Dennis Quaid! It’s not too late!