A Fox in Werewolf's Clothing
Werewolves have been as much a part of cinema as vampires and psycho killers and even the teen variety is not something exactly different. But then "Teen Wolf" starring Michael J. Fox is different to the norm, different because it's an out and out comedy rather than a horror, in fact it must be one of only a few werewolf movies which are not in the least bit scary. But unlike other movies from the 80's which manage to still be as entertaining now as when they were originally released "Teen Wolf" feels rather dull and whilst I remember enjoying it back in the day it is now a bit of a corny disappointment.
In "Teen Wolf" Michael J. Fox (Mars Attacks!) stars as Scott Howard your pretty typical teenager who is not the greatest when it comes to basketball and desperately wants the hot girl he dreams about to notice him, but he's too shy to really do anything about it. That is until he goes through a surprising change and discovers that he is a werewolf, a change which not only leads to him being great at basketball but also becoming the most popular and hairy kid in school. All of which is great until he wonders whether his new friends like him for who he really is or because of his hairy alter ego.
To be frank the actual werewolf element to "Teen Wolf" has to be one of the weakest and is purely a prop for what is in essence a pretty standard story about a teenager who suddenly becomes popular and good at everything but then has to make decisions whether he wants to be popular for who he is or for being a werewolf. It's the sort of storyline used in various teen movies, especially back in the 80's and so for the most part it is straight forwards. But then in many ways you don't expect much more and the movies emphasis is more on the humour than anything else. Although the additional emphasis on the basketball makes it feel slightly confused as in it wants to be part inspirational sports movie as well, which only works as padding to make it run for the less than lengthy 89 minutes.
As for the actual werewolf side of "Teen Wolf", well director Rod Daniel and writers Jeph Loeb and Matthew Weisman have great fun exploring the humorous side of becoming a werewolf. Obviously with this being a teen comedy they play on the obvious change in life with young Scott's sort of confusion whether these unexpected changes are part of puberty, but it is elsewhere that the comedy side of the movie comes alive. Watching Scott turn from a lack lustre basketball player into the teen wolf and suddenly have all the ability of a Harlem Globetrotter, a hairy one at that, is where the movie works. There are various other moments; a couple of surprises which too reveal would seriously spoil some of the joy of "Teen Wolf". Plus of course there are the scenes of surfing on top of the van, which if I remember got seriously criticised when the movie originally came out for encouraging teenagers to do something stupidly dangerous, as if they need any encouragement.
But one thing which should add to the humour but lets it down is the way Michael J. Fox looks as a werewolf. Now I know the movie plays it for laughs, and the build up to the big change where Fox's character Scott gets subtle changes like a long hair appearing on his chest, pointy ears and claw like finger nails all work to make you laugh, the actual end result is laughable for the wrong reasons. Taking the lead from the werewolves of those 50 B movies, I can see what the idea was but Fox ends up looking more like a reject from "The Planet of the Apes". For me it spoils "Teen Wolf" enough to make me find it a little too tacky.
Interestingly "Teen Wolf" was made before Michael J. Fox wowed us as Marty McFly in the first "Back to the Future" movie, but it didn't get released until after, capitalizing on Fox's popularity which sky rocketed thanks to "Back to the Future". If this hadn't been the case I am sure "Teen Wolf" would have ended up a low budget flop, because whilst Fox delivers that likeable persona he employed in many movies during the 80's, adding a raw shyness to the character, there is very little else to really make it stand out. Jerry Levine delivers a party animal like performance as best friend 'Stiles' and Susan Ursitti is cute but little else as 'Boof' and that is about it.
The thing is that I remember loving "Teen Wolf" when I was growing up in the 80's, the amusement of watching Fox turn into a werewolf made me laugh. But now the movie feels not so much dated, although it is with bad outfits and even worse music, but more flat. It's very much just average with nothing overly special about it, no real energy and humour which it has to be said is very corny.
What this all boils down to is that "Teen Wolf" is not the enjoyable movie which I remember it once being. It hasn't stood the test of time very well and although it still has a few funny scenes, they are too few leaving the movie to float in much low budget mediocrity. What it is, is a movie which trades heavily on the likeability of Michael J. Fox and in many ways it is Fox who makes it a far better movie than it should be.