DECEMBER 20, 2009
Amidst the stack of screeners I have for “rainy days” (i.e. I’m between Netflix rentals and have exhausted my real DVD collection) was War Wolves, which is too good of a title (and one I can't believe hadn't been used earlier) to waste on a Sci-Fi original movie. Or so I thought. While certainly no classic, it was a lot better than I expected, and made up for a dozen or so other generic Sci-Fi movies I’ve endured over the past couple years.
For starters, it’s not really action-heavy, and that is to its credit. The few action scenes are largely boring Matrix-inspired fights with little gore, so the less of them we have to sit through, the better. Instead, we get a surprising amount of time spent with the actual characters, particularly the two human heroes played by John Saxon and Tim Thomerson. These guys have certainly been around for a while, so there’s a slight bit of meta-charm in seeing them playing two “dinosaurs” who are trying to take out all of the werewolf-cursed young folks (they were bitten during a botched operation in Iraq or something - I missed the actual locale - under Saxon/Thomerson’s command). Thomerson in particular is a delight, as a movie-star obsessed right hand man to Saxon’s colonel (or general, or whatever - look I suck at details). Thomerson wants Saxon to quit the army life and reconnect with his estranged family, Saxon feels responsible for what happened and wants to make amends... it’s nothing Pulitzer-worthy, but it’s far more interesting than the usual shit the Sci-Fi channel offers us for character development.
Speaking of the channel, there’s a bit late in the film where Art LaFleur’s character accuses Saxon of being a “Man in Black” hunting down a government experiment gone wrong, and that the army is always trying to create super soldiers. I loved this bit - whether it was intentional or not, he was essentially making fun of the other movies that were probably airing on the Sci-Fi Channel that day. Actually, him and the other folks that make up the AA group (a subplot for the noble, non-human killing hero werewolf) are a welcome distraction, and I wish they were in the film more.
In fact, anything that would take screen time away from Michael Worth’s character would be OK. He’s the de facto star of the movie, but his character is dreadfully dull, and that he hardly ever speaks (an entire action scene goes by with him just sort of glaring at the other people) makes it worse. And since Worth was also directing (also poorly - way too much shaki-cam and a few confusing scene transitions), I got the impression he was spreading himself too thin, and that the film as a whole could be better if he had just focused on one job and handed the other over to someone more capable. Oddly, I remember his character being the weak link in Sasquatch Mountain too, and he wrote that film, so maybe he just likes to let his co-stars steal the movie away from him.
I also kind of dug the faux Tarantino tone that the movie takes on at times. As I said, Thomerson is obsessed with movie stars, so he goes on and on about Steve McQueen and John Wayne, and also finds a way to reference Lance Henriksen (is this the first movie to ever reference the man?). Martin Kove also shows up briefly as a would-be assassin or something, and tells this long story about an ex-girlfriend that seems like something out of True Romance (he is then killed mid-sentence, another Tarantino esque surprise kill scene). Again, the movie’s surprising wealth of character/story scenes compared to the action worked in its favor, and it’s always nice to see 80s guys like Kove and Thomerson having a little fun.
Now, don’t get me wrong - this is not a great movie by any means. It’s way too long for starters (105 minutes!) and has a few too many supporting characters and subplots. And since the action is so minimal, it’s kind of a bummer that it’s not really exciting when it does occur - the final fight between Worth and the main bad werewolf is just the two of them kicking each other midair in the middle of a house. And they try to present Worth’s werewolf-ism as a sort of metaphor for post-traumatic stress disorder, which never quite works (largely due to Worth’s lack of screen presence). It’s not the worst idea (shades of Deathdream) but with all the other stuff going on, it seems a bit half-baked and probably should have been saved for its own movie.
Plus the title would suggest werewolves fighting in an actual war, which would have been way more awesome than ex-soldiers becoming wolves once they have left the military. I demand a prequel!
But hey, if you are expecting a traditional Sci-Fi movie, you get something that I think is much better and more interesting. AND it doesn’t appear to have been shot in Bulgaria, so there’s another plus.
What say you?