For those of us disappointed that MOONLIGHT, although very good, was not about werewolves, here is a pretty okay wolfman movie to dig up. (You know, like a dog would dig up a bone or something.) It stars Mario Van Peebles, it’s directed by Anthony Hickox right after WARLOCK: THE ARMAGEDDON, and it’s written by Richard Christian Matheson (THREE O’CLOCK HIGH) & Michael Reaves (Super Friends).
I like that it combines werewolves with a straight up cop movie. It’s hard to classify as horror exactly, because the lycanthropy is treated more like super powers than monsters. In fact, they have Wolverine style claws and Magneto type helmets. But they are werewolves in a legit action movie complete with cliches about cops and their partners and one of them saying “I’m too old for this” and everything.
Even better, this came out the year America stole John Woo, and the style seems pretty influenced by him. Lots of leaping through the air to fire guns, slow motion, intense, lingering closeups. For the opening set piece Hickox revisits his HELLRAISER III: HELL ON EARTH idea of terror in a dance club full of big spooky body part sculptures, but with bullets and debris and people flying everywhere, usually with LAPD detective Max Dire (Van Peebles) dropping from above or jumping in the air or laying on the floor while shooting two guns.
Max’s partner Jim (Tony Denison, MEN OF WAR, WILD THINGS 2, Joey Buttafuoco in the Drew Barrymore version of THE AMY FISHER STORY) is thoroughly machine gunned during the battle, barely surviving. In the hospital later we see a mysterious figure in uniform inject his I.V. Normally that means there’s a dirty cop or a criminal disguised as one who is trying to kill the man in retaliation. But in this case he doesn’t seem to be poisoned. Somehow he’s fully healed like a day later. Max knows this miraculous recovery is crazy and is never comfortable with it, but what is he supposed to say?
The best part of the movie is Jim learning his new powers. The two happen to witness a drive-by shooting while they’re buying donuts (ha ha get it cops eat donuts*), and they chase after the shooters. Jim goes on foot and runs on top of a bunch of moving cars to catch up with them, jumps onto their motorcycle, rams it into a wall and walks away from the explosion. I mean it’s actually not that much more spectacular than what Chance Boudreaux would’ve done, but Jim jumps higher. Because of wolf powers.
*Although this is considered a negative stereotype I also like donuts so I don’t actually fault them for that
The other shoe drops when Max is at the bar where all the cops go to drink and play pool, and Jim walks in and shoots himself in front of everybody. Not good. Later Max gets called into the office of Adam Garou (Bruce Payne, PASSENGER 57, ONE TOUGH BASTARD) and invited to some sort of support group or something at his apartment.
Max is skeptical, but he shows up and there’s various cops including Casey (Patsy Kensit, LETHAL WEAPON 2), who shares an obvious attraction with him, and this is bad because he’s trying to patch things up with his wife (Victoria Rowell, BARB WIRE). They’re all complaining about how hard it is to get all the law enforcement done, and praising Garou like he’s Tony Robbins or somebody. It turns out the way he makes them feel better is by bringing them on vigilante runs while they’re off duty, taking out drug dealers and shit off the books. They put on jumpsuits and helmets and use grappling guns like super heroes, but the stuff they’re doing seems less ethical.
Oh yeah, and also there’s this performance enhancing drug that Garou created. You know, there are all different things that make Max uncomfortable, but they reveal them to him one at a time, spacing them out so he doesn’t immediately tell them to fuck off. The drug, of course, is what gave Jim his healing powers and strength, and also the curse that inspired him to eat a silver bullet as a bar snack.
But just like many drugs, before it’s a curse it’s a fun time. These guys especially enjoy walking around together trying to look cool. The drug might enhance their walking around together looking cool abilities. In my opinion it is not natural for sober individuals to stand in the fog posing like this:
Nor to walk into a police headquarters like this:
Don’t tell me that’s not suspicious, internal affairs. I don’t blame you if you didn’t guess they’re werewolf vigilantes, but I would hope that would at least raise some red flags. Look at these fuckin guys.
Casey is a bad influence in my opinion. She’s well meaning and obviously Max needs to take responsibility for his own poor decisions. But Casey can be blamed for violently pushing him into this drug world. Max keeps his nose clean for a while, but not his dick. Even after he sees what the drug can do, and even after he fucks Casey and she grows fangs and growls at him and he doesn’t mind, he just says no. So she shoots him and then injects him so that he won’t die. He’s surprisingly forgiving of this utter betrayal and goes with her to raid a drug den and learn the ropes of being a super werewolf crimefighter.
Of course there’s always a suspicion that this organization is not what it seems, that they’re not just going overboard in fighting crime, but they’re actually bad people. And it certainly seems like Casey is purposely seducing Max to bring him into the pack. But it turns out she’s genuine about wanting to stop criminals, and I think Garou is too, but
1) he doesn’t warn them about the long term effects of the drug and
2) even if he did, fuck this guy because he’s an abusive, possessive asshole who tells Casey she’s not allowed to have sex with Max, only him, then hits her and rapes her.
It’s not too surprising where things go from there, but there are cool touches. I like that Max is awarded a medal of bravery for his police work and it happens to be made of silver. It burns him when he gets it, and later he melts it down and makes it into a bullet to kill Garou.
In the end there’s a little John Woo lite in the relationship between Max and Garou. They’re enemies and they’re trying to kill each other, but they have some kind of respect for each other. Garou (SPOILER) dies with his head on Max’s shoulder after telling him how to inherit his powers.
I gotta give this one credit, because I kept thinking it was trying to be kinda the made-for-HBO version of BLADE, especially the way Van Peebles delivered a particular line:
(Feel free to use this in your social media replies)
But as you can see it predates BLADE by about five years. I sort of doubt it was an influence, but there are some similarities. Just as Blade travels the world following vampire migration patterns, Garou goes from city to city founding new packs to clean up the streets. And like Blade, Max and Casey jump out of a window, willing to smash themselves up. Except instead of landing on a lower roof, Casey crashes through a parked car, and this is not a FAST AND FURIOUS movie so that’s not a way to break her fall.
Anyway, this is obviously no BLADE by any stretch of the imagination, but they both blend action, horror and a little bit of super hero shit, and that’s an enjoyable mix, even in a lesser version like this.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.