Worth A Look: 10.34%
Pretty Bad: 13.79%
Total Crap: 0%
2 reviews, 17 user ratings
by Marc Kandel
Wolf is an ambitious romp transformed into a slavering mess due to eleventh hour revisions attempting to cash in on the classic monster resurgence of the mid-nineties, veering so far from the original intent that any viewer interest by film’s end is of the car accident rubberneck variety rather than that of a captivated theatrical audience.Will Randall (Jack Nicolson), a weary, beaten older man facing job loss, marital apathy and sheer exhaustion is bitten by a wolf which has the curious effect of reinvigorating him physically and mentally, enabling him to get his life back on course in the face of personal and professional crisis. But along with a wolf’s assertiveness and cunning comes a wolf’s appetites and viciousness- in the end, can Will still call himself a man, or will he submerge himself to the animal raging for release?
"Lycanthropy as Viagra"
I’m picturing the studio meeting at Sony on this one:
Mike Nichols: So the film’s ready, and I have to say, it’s pretty damn good. We've got decent performances, a fun, uplifting storyline with a dose of the supernatural.
Faceless Exec: Well that’s just great Mike, great.
Mike Nichols: Yeah. I mean, Jack’s given a clever, virile performance that plays to his strengths while still giving us a touch of something new to his character. His middle-age is a focal point, you know, he’s getting older, and this movie I think is the first where we see him dealing with that onscreen.
In addition there’s some excellent satire of the corporate weltanschauung of the killer instinct and the idea of youth versus experience. There are some really finely textured office face offs, alpha male conflicts and sexual reawakenings. Damn fine dialogue too. There’s even a bit of “Taming of the Shrew” between Jack and Michelle, Jimmy Spader oozes his charms like a razor set inside a marshmallow, Christopher Plummer has that patriarchal bastard down to a tee, it all works really well.
Faceless Exec: And how about the transformation scenes? How do the werewolves look?
Mike Nichols: The what?
Faceless Exec: Werewolves. Werewolves son. We paid for a Werewolf flick. Looks good alongside the Dracula one we got out and the Frankenstein one that we got in the pipe. Monsters son. The people like the monsters.
Mike Nichols: This movie isn’t about Werewolves though. We don’t even use the word. It’s about instinct versus societal constraints, about human motivation coupled with animal reaction, about age and ethical behavior in an atmosphere that caters to the young and amoral. Jack’s transformation isn’t outward, it’s inward. The bite releases his primordial survival and pack instincts and he applies them to his life. He doesn’t actually become a wolf. That’s not the point.
Faceless Exec: Bushwah son, Bushwah! Werewolves. We got bloodsuckers, we got reanimated corpses—and that’s just the legal department and our contractual obligation to Keanu! Hah! I joke son, I joke. We got two remade classics, and need a Wolf-Man to bring through the trifecta. I know what you’re thinking… “What about mummies?” We’ll worry about those old things some other summer. You want to do a mummy film?
Mike Nichols: Um… No, no thank you…
Faceless Exec: Well anyhoo, you’re our Werewolf guy.
Mike Nichols: But I’m not. This film is about age not equaling ineffectuality, about the value of primal instinct tempered with morality.
Faceless Exec: You fucking with me son?
Mike Nichols: You know, I did do The Graduate. You’d think that would earn me just a bit of currency here…
Faceless Exec: Long time ago Mike, yes it was. Anyway. Werewolves. Get me some werewolves. We got Jack Nicholson- that’s a right good werewolf right there.
Mike Nichols: Well that’s the conceit of the film- its Jack as a wolf. It doesn’t even take much. I mean, he can do this thing with a pair of seventy five dollar contact lenses and two days without shaving.
Faceless Exec: You let us worry about the budget, yes you do. Tell you what… Mimi, you get me Rick Baker on the phone…
Faceless Exec: Nice boy. Good with plastics. Makes a damn fine werewolf.
Mike Nichols: Yes, he’s already done it twice in fact. I don’t know that there’s anything he could bring to the table here for this specific project…
Faceless Exec: Werewolves. He’s gonna bring me werewolves. How ‘bout a Werewolf fight? He done one of those? We’re gonna have a Werewolf fight, is what we’re gonna do. Yep. Two werewolves. Now that’d be something!
Mike Nichols: Um. I think he did one for that Fox TV Show in the 80’s. But there aren’t going to be any werewolves in this film. It’s a psychological transformation moreso than a physical one.
Faceless Exec: …What?
Mike Nichols: I mean we are reaching for something new here, something different, right?
Faceless Exec: What’s the name of the picture son?
Mike Nichols: “Wolf”. But…
Faceless Exec: “Wolf”. Fucking A. Exactly. “Wolf”. Now to my thinking, you call a picture “Wolf”, well, there might better be a “Wolf” somewhere in it, right?
Mike Nichols: There is. In the very beginning. A couple of them even.
Faceless Exec: Is it Jack Nicholson?
Mike Nichols: No. Its a wolf.
Faceless Exec: Then why the fuck am I shelling out 13 million for this fat old asshole? I want Jack Nicholson sprouting fangs, howling, running on all fours, pissing on Michelle Fucking Pfieffer. I want a wolf I’ll go to the goddam zoo. We don’t run zoos here son, we make pictures. Mimi where’s Baker for fuck’s sake?
Mimi: Sir, he doesn’t want to do the film. Says he already made his mark with American Werewolf in London and The Howling. And that Fox show in the 80’s.
Faceless Exec: Tell him he doesn’t get his yak hair and elmer’s glue applying ass over here in thirty minutes I’ll roast wife and children on a goddam spit in the fucking studio parking lot. Then I’ll rape their corpses for a year. Then hang up and get your head back under the table.
Mike Nichols: Oh Jesus God…
Faceless Exec: Now where were we son? Oh yes, you were making me a Werewolf picture. With Werewolves. I don’t want to hear about any somesuch nonsense about “instincts” or “psychology” or whatever. I want a Werewolf film. Now get out and make me a Werewolf film.
Mike Nichols: Yessir.
6-8 months of re-shoots later and we have Wolf, a hybrid of satirical drama and horror that works for over half the film and then degenerates into a playground fight chock full of jump cuts that render the shoehorned special effects useless. The fun and joy of watching Will Randall retake his life piece by piece, thwart the designs of his manipulative employer and backstabbing colleague, deal with his slumping marriage, and sip the night air with renewed vigor and power as he luxuriates in the freedom of the primal man is delightful. The disappointment of watching the film drop these ideas flat, opting instead for a thoughtless slasher film climax is palpable and even James Spader’s honeyed poison performance is soured by what essentially becomes a slap fight choreographed like a battle for Darla in a Little Rascals’ episode, with Nicholson basically transforming into Oliver Reed, which is downright laughable, and not a little sad.
The strengths of this film manage to stand out despite the critical misfire of the conclusion. It's the first movie that allows Nicholson to step back and recognize he’s not the spry jester of the 70’s or the comfortable lunatic of the 80’s. A panic attack immediately has us pitying his sorry state, and worrying for his future. He’s so tired, and the razor wit and delivery we are used to from the Jackster is subdued under a defeated, weakened man. Then to watch him emerge from this fugue and blossom into the predator we all know and love, methodically reclaiming his dominance, its spectacular.
On a personal note, Nicholson’s point blank deconstruction of Pfeiffer’s manipulative, self-absorbed ice queen is pound for pound one of my favorite monologues ever and should be studiously memorized by all men with aspirations of dating models and actresses, or just women in general.
Sadly the film as a whole does not measure up to its scattered strengths and wasted potential has the story merely stumbling across the finish line after exploding out of the starting gate.Ironically, I could have used a film with less bite. Literally.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=2504&reviewer=358
originally posted: 09/14/06 13:31:06