MR. HOWL

For the movies, this represents an improvement over more buckets of gore, certainly. I might even concede that it's an improvement over some of modern life's privations. But it's still potentially as tame and naive and banal a vision of "the dark side" as New Ageism is of "the light." While Wolf may go over big with the same crowd that loved Bram Stoker's Dracula and Ken Russell's Byronic orgy Gothic and Anne Rice's novels, its best feature is that it doesn't take this side of itself too seriously.

It might have been better, in fact, if Nichols and the writers had taken the film into the realm of pure satire--if, say, Nicholson had parlayed his condition into a career-making best seller, like Freeing the Wolf Within or Shape-Shift for Success. Agreeable film though it is, nothing in Wolf seems as authentically wolfish as the glints of sophisticated comedy that Nichols and company bring to it. As a monster, this movie's werewolf holds all the primal terror of a stockbroker on a men's-movement retreat. He's warm and fuzzy.

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