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It seems remarkable that it took until as late into his career as 1994 that somebody thought to cash Jack Nicholson as a Werewolf. Even in his softest roles, the triple-Oscar winning actor always looked about one good full moon away from a killing spree. So a pairing with the reliable Mike Nichols for the gothic horror-romance Wolf should have been the stuff of movie magic.
In reality, despite the excellent pedigree, Wolf ultimately feels a little toothless. At just over two hours, the plot takes a long time to kick into gear, and the horror elements – such as they are – are mostly held back for the last fifteen minutes, and the central romance feels awkward and underwritten. It’s a classic example of a movie with heaps of potential, but no clear idea of what exactly it wants to be.
Strange as it may seem, Nicholson himself also feels miscast in Wolf. He impresses with the physicality of his werewolf – when not being subbed for bizarrely obvious body doubles, anyway – but he’s far less convincing as a mild-mannered, middle-aged literary agent facing the twilight of his career. On paper, Will Randall seems like he should be a sad sack – more than one character tells him he’s too nice for the cut-throat world of modern publishing. But Nicholson is never believable as a loser, and the transition into newly virile wolf-man loses impact as a result.
Despite these flaws, there’s fun to be had in the film. Nichols is too good a director to totally squander the premise, and there are plenty of individually great scenes even if they don’t add up to an entirely satisfying whole. The best of these involve James Spader, having great fun as Nicholson’s transparently phoney protégé turned corporate rival. Michelle Pfeiffer also delivers a strong performance, despite her lack of chemistry with Nicholson and the under-written nature of her role. You come away from Wolf wishing that all this talent had been put to slightly better use…
…which is where we come in. As we mark the final week of our Halloween Season of the Wolf, we’re joined by Phil Better of The Phil Better Show and Rory Spence of Doghair Presents, to help us to pitch sequels to this could’ve been classic turned late night TV staple. Tune into this week’s episode to hear our ideas, plus our thoughts on everything from the film’s delightfully dated special effects to the frankly bewildering Ennio Morricone score. And, of course, the body doubles. We have a lot to say about the body doubles.
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Next week, we’re sticking to the horror theme for a little while longer with the help of one of our generous Patreon fans. Until then, remember to drive safe and never poke an injured Werewolf…