Stars: Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer, James Spader, Kate Nelligan, Richard Jenkins, Christopher Plummer, David Hyde Pierce. Written by Jim Harrison & Wesley Strick. Directed by Mike Nichols. Rated R for adult themes, profanity, violence.

With the success of Francis Ford Coppola's film "Bram Stoker's Dracula" at the end of 1992, the door was opened for big name stars and directors to create modern versions of classic horror films. The Hollywood logic is that if one film strikes paydirt, the genre should be mined ad nauseam. This is the reason why so many westerns have cropped up lately in the wake of "Dances with Wolves" and "Unforgiven". It's also the reason that "Wolf", starring Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer and directed by Mike Nichols ("Working Girl"), exists today. (Lest you think that "Wolf" is where this trend stops, look for a major production of "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein", starring Robert De Niro as the monster, to hit theaters within the year).

As the film begins, Will Randall's (Nicholson) job as a Manhattan book editor is in peril. A takeover of the company buy a wealthy businessman has put his future with the company on shaky ground. At least this stressful complication to his life has taken his mind off the pain in his hand. The pain stems from a rather nasty bite he received while trying to help a wolf he hit while driving. But when the inevitable happens and Will gets the corporate axe, he is able to concentrate on the new sensations that seem to be rapidly affecting his body.

Foremost among these is his now-acute sense of hearing which allows him to eavesdrop on conversations several yards away. Another is the improvement of his eyesight to the point where he no longer needs glasses. A third change is the transformation of his demeanor from doormat to go-getter. It is this change which allows him to weasel his way back into his old job, at higher pay to boot.

But Will seems to realize, even before it happens, that there is a price to pay for his newfound abilities and courage. At night he becomes, in essence, a wolf although physically the metamorphosis is slight. Laura Alden (Pfeiffer), daughter of the man who let Will go and then later capitulated to him, is drawn to Will and eventually believes what he has been saying all along about becoming a wolf. Too much in love with him at this point to allow her fear to overpower her, Laura attempts to help him in any way possible. With police hot on his trail for the apparent murder of his ex-wife (Kate Nelligan), Will decides to keep out of sight and fully restrained, less he harm anyone. But when his old nemesis, Stewart Swinton (James Spader), shows up looking for blood, the only way he can protect Laura is to unleash the wolf within him.

Mike Nichols does a tremendous job setting and maintaining the somber mood of "Wolf". He infuses the production with a look and an atmosphere appropriate for a good, old-fashioned fright show. What he can't seem to avoid, however, is turning the film's most intimate moments into mawkish melodrama. This crippling flaw spoils an intense and well-made horror flick to the degree that I cannot recommend it.

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