Wolf (1994)

"What are you?  The last civilized man?" - Michelle Pfieffer to Jack

Jack Nicholson as a werewolf?  Now *there's* a stretch.  Devil, Joker,
and now WOLF-- not exactly the casting coup of the decade.  With his
arched 'brows and narrow eyes, Jack is already two-thirds of the way
there. Both on-screen and off. Bedside with an axe or roadside with a
nine-iron, we've seen this wolf before. Which begs the question:  is
there anything really *new* in this "adult" horror film?

Well, actually, yes.

The first scene sets the story:  Will Randall (Nicholson), a New York
book editor, hits a wolf while driving at night through Vermont.
Obviously not an editor of horror fiction, Randall gets out of his car
and attempts to drag (with his bare hands!) the animal out of the
roadway. Chomp!

Nursing a wounded hand, Randall returns to the city whereupon he
discovers that, among other things, his senses have become heightened.
By cocking his head-- as only Nicholson can do so well-- he can hear
nearly every conversation in his building.  By simply sniffing, he can
tell which coworkers are sleeping with whom.

The blood of the wolf also recharges Will Randall. He now has the
strength to fight adversary Stewart Swinton (James Spader), a young exec
with designs on his job.  Randall also has several less-than-friendly
encounters with Raymond Alden (Amanda Plummer), the new owner of the
publishing house. Throw in the tycoon's rebellious daughter Laura
(Michelle Pfieffer) and you have a better recipe for satire than horror.

WOLF works very well in the first hour.

Sans makeup and mutton chops, Nicholson is in top form. You can't beat a
Jack and seeing him play an person is at *least* three times as much fun
as watching him play a monster.  Spader is smarmy stitch.  Watch for a
*great* bathroom confrontation between Jack and James.  Christopher
Plummer is a nice touch, as well.  Pfeiffer has fewer scenes that her
billing suggests.  Her role is also underwritten, but, age-gap
notwithstanding, she plays the part with believability.

Too bad that WOLF becomes a howler in the second half.

Director Mike Nichols can do the drama, but he has *absolutely* no
business helming horror.  His worst offense is filming every scary scene
in slow-motion-- a technique that does little more than show off
Nicholson's stunt double.  (Come back John Landis!  We forgive your

There are more gothic touches than you can shake a stake at, but the
core creature-- the werewolf-- is utterly unbelievable. Jack's make-up
isn't very good and the most exciting thing his stunt double ever does
is to leap twenty or thirty feet into the air.  The mythology is also a
bit goofy and don't even *ask* about the overkill ending!

Liabilities notwithstanding, the script has a double dozen great lines.
Nicholson's exchange with Pfieffer, over sandwiches, is worth
remembering.  (As is the sight of Jack eating a peanut-butter-and-jelly

Technical credits are *very* accomplished. Kudos to production designer
Bo Welch and cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno, in particular.  Ennio
Morricone's score is okay.  (Rated "R"/121 min.)

BOTTOM LINE:  Sharp satire, lousy lycanthropy. Nicholson is great and
first hour is good, but don't expect much in either the make-up or
mythology department.


Copyright 1994 by Michael J. Legeros

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