Everyone says Mike Nichols, the director of Wolf, is a genius. True. Only a genius could make the world believe that getting Jack Nicholson to play a

werewolf is a coup (hell, Jack Nicholson always plays a

werewolf). Only a genius could persuade James Spader to revive the yuppie slimeball stereotype that dogged his early career. And surely only a genius could waste Michelle Pfeiffer as a poor little rich girl (right), dispose of Kate Nelligan as an unfaithful wife and have Christopher Plummer do his evil bastard thing (again) and demand applause for his intelligence, restraint and taste.

Intelligence, restraint and taste are, of course, the three ingredients essential to any werewolf picture - not. But, hey, let's not get too picky. Without Nichols's genius, Wolf wouldn't be the bizarre original that it is: the first werewolf movie totally without sub-text.

A hack would have made Wolf less of a. . .

a romance? a comedy of Manhattan manners? a botch? and opted for maybe making

Nicholson's middle-aged man representative of the male who's lost his animal self. A journeyman might have even made the wolf a symbol of capitalism: ready to snarl at interlopers, ready kill to protect his territory. Someone

infinitely less intelligent and less tasteful might even have made Pfeiffer a hot babe who got off on screwing something tall, dark and hairy instead of giving her an underwritten lonely lady role to stumble through. But Nichols is above such notions - he thinks the lurking preoccupations of the horror genre banal. And who'd want to argue with him? On the subject of banality, Nichols really is a genius.