DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Wolf

Thursday 22 October 2009


Wolf (1994) dir. Mike Nichols
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfieffer, James Spader, Christopher Plummer


By Alan Bacchus

As evidenced by the general ambivalence of audiences at the time of its release, never mind that few people talk about ‘Wolf’ in either Jack Nicholson’s career or Mike Nichols’, its no surprise there are no special features on the new Blu-Ray disc. Even the HD transfer is dull and unimpressive. Its one of the worst films in both Nicholson's and Nichols' careers.

It’s an extremely dull opening act and a forgettable unimpressive introduction to the werewolf. Will Randle (Nicholson), high power literary editor, is driving home at night in his car under painfully obvious and unironic studio process driving shots when his car swerves out of the way of a animal lying on the ground. Will examines the creature, thinking it's dead when it suddenly comes alive and bites him. Of course a werewolf has bitten him and he will eventually start to exhibit signs of canis lupus behaviour - heighten senses, immense strength and of course excessive hair growth.

By day, Will's publishing company employer is currently under threat by another rival company for a takeover. While Randle is wrestling with his newfound animalistic behaviour he's forced to negotiate equally treacherous hostility in the workplace. His good buddy Stuart (James Spader) goes behind his back to snatch his job sending Randle into his new wolf-like rage.

The parallels of corporate politics and vicious predatory instincts of the wooded hunter animal is not lost on us. It’s just about the only interesting aspect of the picture. Casting Jack Nicholson is a curiosity. While we expect Jack to be in full “Jack’ form, overacting and chewing the scenery, he’s actually a subdued and quiet. And I'm not even sure it works. His wife even cheats on him with James Spader’s character (like we didn’t see that coming). For better or worse, Jack actually blends into the background.

Wolfmen are one of the more venerable of Hollywood genre monster characters. Like Vampires, and Zombies, it represents a physical manifestation of the inner Freudian nature of ourselves, expressed literally. The dull performance of Jack is part and parcel with Nichols’ overall treatment of this salacious subject matter as poker-faced serious. Take the scene which has Randle visiting the Indian healer and animal-possession expert played by Om Puri. At this point Randle is so self-aware of his predicament, he appears to take it all in stride without pause.

By the second half of the picture when the corporate story runs dry and the romantic story with Michelle Pfieffer’s literary heiress character is brought forward, the film slowly drowns itself into its own pool of cinematic excrement. The final act which builds up to a series of action scenes between the two rival wolf characters is atrociously choreographed, acted, designed and directed. Mike Nichols is a great filmmaker, and he’s earned his share of missteps, which is why he and everyone involved quickly threw this one in the closet.

"Wolf" is available on Blu-Ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment


Anonymous said...

Even the trailer is lame and dull...

Alan Bacchus said...

Coincidentally, it was the same year as Kenneth Branagh's bomb, Mary Shelley's frankenstein, which i'll be reviewing next week