Teen Wolf (1985) / Comedy-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: PG for some drug references, teen drinking, and language (would likely be PG-13 if rated today)
Running Time: 91 min.
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Susan Ursitti, Jerry Levine, Lorie Griffin, James Hampton, Kay Tarses, Matt Adler, Jim McKrell, Mark Arnold, Mark Holton
Director: Rod Daniel
Screenplay: Jeph Loeb, Matthew Weisman
Review published March 21, 2010
Michael J. Fox (Bright Lights Big City, Back to the Future Part II) stars as high schooler Scott Howard, a proverbial 98-lb. weakling who spends his time playing for the hapless school basketball team, the Beacontown Beavers, while completely ignored by his crush, Pamela Wells (Griffin, Cheerleader Camp). Things turn around when he discovers that his body is bringing forth changes, thanks to a hereditary lycanthrope gene, that causes him to change from average boy to teen wolf anytime he needs the physical strength, agility and aggression such a conversion allows. Now he's the superstar on his surging basketball team and a celebrity around the school, even drawing the interest of Pamela. However, in the course of his rise to stardom, people like him more as Teen Wolf than Scott Howard, and he has to decide if he's willing to give up on everything he is to please the masses that adore his werewolf side.
One of the first scripts written by future comic book and television superstar writer/producer Jeph Loeb (Commando, Burglar), Teen Wolf plays as a mix of superhero origin story (even including the Spider-Man mantra of, "With great power must come great responsibility"), 1980s teen romantic comedy, and 1950s horror spoof (especially I Was a Teenage Werewolf). The film would be a minor hit, having been released, after being shelved for a bit, while Fox's Back to the Future was still riding high at the box office, though it had been filmed prior. Although it rode the coattails of BTTF's performance by Fox as part of its allure, the role doesn't bring forth much of Fox's comic charisma evidenced in the iconic character of Marty McFly. This problem is further compunded by the fact that Fox is nearly unrecognizable under all of the make-up, fake hair and fangs throughout half of the movie. Even so, Fox's appearance remains the film's only asset.
Although made decades ago, Teen Wolf was already decades too late to be appealing to more sophisticated audiences. It's too bubblegum for most late teens or adults, while many of the jokes are too adult for the preteens that might find it passably cute. Perhaps unintentionally, it might work as a subliminal public service announcement for eschewing performance enhancers like steroids to get ahead in athletics, as the accolades and popularity one accrues are for the juiced-up person you become rather than the person you really are. As a comedy, the only gag the film has going for it is the title itself, and that's not enough once you've seen the poster or trailer. The direction lacks pizzazz and the score, in addition to the soundtrack, sounds cheap and offers next to nothing to enhance the scenes they cover.
Fantastical ideas require the creators to do something imaginative with them, and Teen Wolf goes for easy, mild, and lazy routes to try to entertain whenever possible. Scott's transformation is readily accepted by his peers, and the storyline completely ignores the media maelstrom that should have resulted by the existence of a werewolf in the midst. The name of the game is to be as goofy as possible and hope the visual sight gag of a wolf-boy in a basketball jersey is enough to sustain amusement. Not by a long shot. Like its titular hero, this one turns into a dog early and often.
-- Followed by a semi-sequel, Teen Wolf, Too (1987). Also spun off into an animated television series in 1986, and soon to be a live-action television series on MTV in 2010.
©2000 Vince Leo