Average high school student Scott Howard (Michael J. Fox), as you can guess by the film’s title, is a teen wolf. After noticing some bodily changes, Scott learns that he is genetically predisposed to a condition that turns him into a humanoid wolf on a regular basis. At first, the transformations are random and imposing; eventually, though, he begins turning into “The Wolf” by choice, using his newfound physical stature to his advantage. Pretty soon, Scott becomes the star of his school’s basketball team, and earns a celebrity status. Girls want him, his friends bask in the glow of popularity, and everyone cheers him on at the basketball games. As Scott’s stature rises, however, so does his ego. After alienating friends and love interests alike, he must learn to deal with the beast within.
Teen Wolf works best when its namesake is not onscreen. Without the fur and fangs, this is a very funny movie, with enough wit and memorable characters to spare. Although Michael J. Fox is really fun to watch here, it is the supporting cast members who are the most entertaining. Jay Tarses, who plays Scott’s basketball coach, is subtly hilarious, and is my favorite character in the film. Jerry Levine and Mark Holton, who play two of Scott’s high-school friends, bring quirks and laughs to each scene they appear in. For approximately half of the movie, the viewer can almost forget about the plot’s ridiculous premise, and enjoy a decent comedy.
Unfortunately, the film goes downhill once Scott begins his recurrent transformations. Where to start? Well, for one thing, the makeup and costumes are as laughable as the events which they incur. Without any administrative or government interference, students nonchalantly welcome a new (very hairy) celebrity into their ranks. Let us pretend for a second that people would actually accept the fact that a human wolf is parading around their school. Why on earth would Scott accrue an unlimited amount of female attention? As The Wolf, he looks horrible, whereas Michael J. Fox is a good looking chap! The getup makes him look dumb as a barrel of nails, and I mean that in the most horrid way possible. Sure, campy comedies deserve an above average level of suspension of disbelief, but parts of this movie are embarrassing to watch.
At the film’s midpoint, the mildly interesting (albeit silly) premise gives way to convention. Emotional beats feel forced and cliche. Scott’s main love interest, Lisa “Boof” Marconi (Susan Ursitti) has zero chemistry with Fox, and the movie’s climactic ballgame begs audience members to roll their eyes over and over again.
From a purely objective standpoint, Teen Wolf is not particularly good. Nevertheless, its campiness does provide a high level of fun and charm. Intentionally funny or not, the film works as a comedy most of the time, and its coming of age story is universal (basic as it may be). Though one can do a whole lot worse for an 80s comedy, you might want to watch Back to the Future for the umpteenth time instead. Oh, and stay away from Teen Wolf Too, the atrocious 1987 sequel starring Jason Bateman.