By Ty Burr
Updated March 11, 1994 at 05:00 AM EST

Before you harsh on Dennis Quaid for throwing his career in the loo and pulling the chain, think on this: The greats had fallow periods too. Bogie? For every Casablanca, a Return of Dr. X. Gable? For every It Happened One Night, a Cain and Mabel. The outline of a real movie star’s gift emerges only with time.

I’m not saying that Quaid is another Bogie or Gable. But don’t count him out on the weakness of dog food like the new-to-video Wilder Napalm and Undercover Blues. Me, I like the guy. I like the way he’s able to play both the sexy, strutting party boy and the weak-willed loser who looks in the mirror the morning after. Great Balls of Fire may have stalled his momentum, but even that was a pretty good movie for a cartoon.

I’d hate to see Quaid get serious, though, with more tight-faced dramas like the recent Flesh and Bone. In that respect, the ostensibly funny Wilder and Undercover are welcome: They’re not very good, but they play to the malicious charm that is this actor’s strong suit.

In fact, Wilder Napalm is all charm and no substance. Directed by Moonlighting creator Glenn Gordon Caron, it’s the simple story of two estranged brothers, with the not-so-simple twist that both Wallace (Quaid) and Wilder (Arliss Howard) can start fires with their minds. Wallace wants to go on Letterman with his gift, but Wilder wants to hide it (Bewitched‘s Darrin Stephens is cited as a reference point). Debra Winger brays seductively as the brothers’ beloved, and Quaid gets to a wear a clown suit. And that, dear folks, is it.

Undercover Blues is less studiously eccentric; the people who made it obviously wanted to turn a profit. There’s not much wrong with this silly farce about a couple of yuppie CIA spooks (Quaid and Kathleen Turner) and their baby on vacation in New Orleans. It’s just minor from the get-go. Two character actors steal the show: Stanley Tucci as a grandly egotistical mugger, and Larry Miller as a scatterbrained cop with a funny lisp (look, you take your laughs where you find them). Throughout, Dennis Quaid grins, bears it, and bides his time. Undercover Blues: C+