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If you were going to make a movie in the 90’s about a modern man turning into a werewolf, you could not cast the role any more perfectly than Jack Nicholson. Done? No, let’s also get Director Mike Nichols (The Graduate, The Birdcage) to sign on. While we’re at it, let’s get Michelle Pfeiffer, James Spader, Richard Jenkins, David Hyde Pierce and Christopher Plummer to join the cast.

Lastly let’s spend $70 million on the movie and just call it WOLF, the most urbane and literate werewolf movie ever made.

Does it all work? Yes, for the most part, it does!

Nicholson enters the film looking old, paunchy and tired as literary editor Will Randall. He’s loved by his authors and respected by the industry, but a bit too nice for the new billionaire owner of the publishing house, Raymond Alden (Plummer in deliciously slimy mode).

Alden fires/slashes demotes Will to the job no one wants and awards his job to Will’s most loyal devotee, Stewart. But Stewart (the excellent Spader) isn’t the friend he appeared to be.

Will Will just roll over and take it?

Thanks to a recently suffered wolf bite on a very snowy, full moon-lit Vermont road, Will seems to have new energy, new perceptions and an animal intensity. Nicholson suddenly seems thinner, stronger and younger than he did in the opening scenes.

Pfieffer is Alden’s daughter Laura, a troubled young woman drawn to something in Will. Kate Nelligan (Eye of the Needle) is Will’s wife of many years, whose desire for something more exciting than her husband is ill-timed.

The cast is excellent, Rick Baker’s transformation make up is very good but never overpowering and the legendary Ennio Morricone serves up a spooky and interesting music score.

Audiences wanting a full blown monster movie would be better served by Benecio del Toro’s underrated 2010 take in “The Wolfman”. WOLF feels more akin to a mashup of a PBS miniseries on corporate avarice and infidelity amongst the New York elite and a modern monster thriller.

Nicholson’s patented wit and snarky delivery has never served him better as he marks his territory both literally and figuratively, dropping menacing threats to Stewart and seductive honesty on Laura.

The last 15 minutes feels like desperate flailing to wrap up the story with the same class it’s set up, sinking into a pedestrian monster battle that, along with the closing shots of Pfieffer, feel tacked on by a studio wrestling to come up with an audience-friendly ending.

It’s 9/10 of a really enjoyable, smart film, dragged down by its final act.

Still, WOLF’s got plenty of bite and gets an enjoyable B.

(Allison Janney fans closely watch for her film debut as one of the employees at Alden’s party and David Schwimmer fans should watch for him a cop at the zoo, filmed months before he broke out on “Friends”!)

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