Unfortunately, many people ended up being disappointed with the actual film, which held nothing of the expectations that the promotional campaign had built up. The erotic promise was merely a tease that amounted to nothing more than what was shown in the trailer; the bit about animal natures, which the film at least does not opt out on, was to the average filmgoer just intellectual nonsense; and the film was neither the stylish big-budget werewolf affair that Bram Stokers Dracula (1992) had been for vampire films, nor even a rehashed B-movie pumped up with a big effects budget as Fright Night (1985) had been. The biggest disappointment seems to have been the films lack of flashy effects, with the film receiving a host of Maybe all the money got spent on Jack Nicholsons salary-type reviews.
Nevertheless, Wolf is still an impressive film in different ways to any of the above. It is an earnest attempt to take werewolf mythology back to its psychological origins as a metaphor for humanitys choice between socialisation and animal instinct. Most of all, it tells the transformation of a man into a wolf in psychological terms this is not a film that needs big-budget transformation effects. The films most invigorating scenes are not when Jack Nicholson is out hunting but rather the scenes where he takes charge in the boardroom. Indeed, the film could easily have come subtitled Lycanthropy and the Art of Self-Assertion.
There is some irony when it comes to the films transformation effects. Wolf brings on board two separate makeup teams, including Rick Baker, the top name in the field, as well as Industrial Light and Magic on effects, but for the contrary purpose of creating ultra low-key transformations no more than a set of grizzled sideburns and glowing eyes in fact, disguising the effects and making them seem as unobtrusive as possible. The great irony is that the most expensive effects people in Hollywood have been brought on board to produce effects that most low-budget films comparably achieve for all of about $1.50.
In the end, perhaps Wolf is too quietly mannered and lacks enough of what the audience came for the scene where Jack Nicholson pursues a deer raises the atmosphere slightly, but there is little else that generates suspense. Nicholson manages to tone his usual theatrics down but he is still too outgoing (and at the age of 57 too weather-beaten in fact, you could say that Nicholson does not need makeup to play a wolf) to convincingly play a milquetoast New York book editor. With an extrovert actor like Jack Nicholson, the characters mousiness has no conviction and thus the film is mostly a waiting for the inevitable point when Nicholson gets to open up and play to form. It needs a quieter, more unobtrusive actor someone like Dustin Hoffman to play the part. Nevertheless, Nicholson does have some convincingly quiet moments it is possibly the most toned down performance he has ever given particularly some of the scenes in the hotel room where he agonises over being able to be good.
As usual, Michelle Pfeiffer seems airily distant. She has several good moments playing the indifferent-seeming wayward heiress but once she gets to shuck the characters psychological barriers she seems as removed as usual. (She also suffers from a fuzzily defined character her waywardness starts out well, but she too easily turns around to become the good heroine). James Spader does the ultimate variation on yet another of his slick, lying, twitchily apologetic yuppie executives.
Mike Nichols was the director of classic films such as Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), The Graduate (1967), Catch 22 (1970), Silkwood (1983), Working Girl (1987), Postcards from the Edge (1990), Closer (2004) and Charlie Wilsons War (2007). Nichols ventured into genre material on several occasions the talking dolphin film The Day of the Dolphin (1973), the alien visitor comedy What Planet Are You From? (2000) and the stunningly surreal AIDS drama Angels in America (2003), featuring a wildly hallucinatory series of angelic visitations.
(Nominee for Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor (Jack Nicholson) and Best Makeup Effects at this sites Best of 1994 Awards).