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Review: 'The Words' With Dennis Quaid

His solid performance in this muddled drama is a reminder of his best movies. We've got a list

Director: Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal
Rating PG-13. Running Time: ‎97 mins.
Stars: Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Irons, Dennis Quaid, Olivia Wilde, Zoe Saldana

There was a time when Dennis Quaid was better known as Randy Quaid's brother and Meg Ryan's ex than for his acting skills. Not anymore — and definitely not this fall. On the heels of playing colorful roles in the 2011 feature films Soul Surfer and Footloose, and 2012's What to Expect When You're Expecting, Quaid will offer intriguing performances in three indy films before year's end, along with a leading role on CBS's new 60-minute drama series, Vegas, in which he plays the real-life cowboy turned Clark County sheriff Ralph Lamb, as he confronts the mob justice that ruled Sin City in the 1960s.

In the first of the indy films, The Words, Quaid plays a self-important, somewhat disingenuous novelist who's written a best seller about a successful writer who is in fact a plagiarist. The phenomenal cast includes Bradley Cooper (Limitless), Jeremy Irons, Zoe Saldana (Avatar) and Olivia Wilde (best known for TRON: Legacy). Quaid's character's story actually functions as a framing device — and a not terribly necessary one, at that. That said, Quaid conveys through his expressions and body language his character's inner duplicity, and he forces the viewer to want to learn the truth about him. He also sizzles in his romantic liaisons with Wilde, bringing to mind his turn as Detective Remy McSwain in The Big Easy, when he seduces Ellen Barkin.

The film explores the legitimate grownup theme of the lengths that people will go in the name of ambition.

The Words begins in present-day New York as Clay Hammond (Quaid) gives a reading from his latest book to a packed audience that includes a comely grad student (Wilde), who's got eyes for him. The main character in Hammond's book (story-within-a-story, remember) is struggling writer Rory Jansen (Cooper), whose ever-adoring wife, Dora (Saldana) buys him an old leather satchel in an antique store while they're on their honeymoon in Paris. Later, Jansen discovers a weather-worn but brilliant manuscript in the satchel, and, desperate to prove himself (to his father, his wife and the world), pawns it off to his agent as his own writing. Massive literary recognition follows — until an old man (yes, that's how the script refers to him), played by Irons, tracks Jansen down and reveals the story is his own, written in a creative spurt and long ago lost on a train. Will the old man expose him? Will Jansen come clean on his own? Is Jansen's story really Hammond's?

Written and directed by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal (Bradley Cooper's childhood friends who wrote TRON: Legacy but direct for their first time here), the film explores the legitimate grownup theme of the lengths that people will go in the name of ambition. The intergenerational nature of the cast is a plus, and Jeremy Irons (who won an Oscar for Reversal of Fortune) is fascinating to watch. But the story-within-a-story conceit is forced, and the bookend nature of the Quaid plot line requires much of the action be told in voiceover, as if taken from the pages of a very-well written book. The dialogue, in fact, hardly lives up.

Sure, if you've got the time and the money, pop into the theater to see The Words. The cast, at the least, will sufficiently entertain you. But better yet, hit up Amazon, and have a stay-at-home Dennis Quaid filmfest.

Next: Create-your-own Dennis Quaid-fest. Here's how. »

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Your Scoop on Cinema

Movies for Grownups is focused on films with distinct relevance to a 50-plus audience. In reviews, previews and interviews, we look for actors and themes that speak to the experiences of older moviegoers. Find more about us on:


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