Werewolf Ninja Philosopher is about the titular New York City-based private eye. The Wolfman (Art Shrian Tiwari), an expert martial artist incorporating philosophical sayings into his training, is hired by the NYPD to help them solve a series of murders leaving them baffled. Someone is offing beloved filmmakers and leaving no physical evidence; no sign of a struggle and no poison in any of the three victims.
With so little to go on Werewolf Ninja Philosopher (yes, that is his name) and his contact in the Celebrity Crimes Unit, Beatrice (Rachel Dixon) set about interviewing witnesses and potential suspects, including famed film critic Ingrid Wode (Kirsten Eileen Dwyer). All the while, Werewolf’s most significant ex-girlfriend Sky (Alia Lorae) is back in town to write a book about her and Werewolf’s time together. She uses this as an excuse to try to reignite their relationship with varying success.
Let’s get one thing out of the way right off the bat. Werewolf Ninja Philosopher is not a werewolf. He does not transform into a wolf during the full moon or anything like that. Instead, he is a wolf-man, in the Lon Chaney Jr. sense, again minus the transformation. For some very pedantic folks, this will rub them the wrong way. For me, it is perfectly fine. Especially considering how Tiwari’s make-up is rather charming. Werewolf’s claws are represented via long press-on nails, his nose merely is painted darker, and he sports pointe ears a la an elf (or Spock, if you prefer). The actor also has a beard and mustache to appear hairier (though whether this is make-up or he grew it, I don’t know), and his eyebrows have been made to look thicker and more substantial.
“…set about interviewing witnesses and potential suspects…as someone is offing beloved filmmakers and leaving no physical evidence…”
Whether it is due to a lack of resources or because the filmmakers found it humorous, or a combination of both (this is my preferred guess), the simple make-up effects work. It is immediately apparent by looking at the character who (or what) he is, while bringing a smile to the audience’s face. A similar thing can be said for Tiwari himself as Werewolf. In a goofball noir such as this and in a part like this, a different actor probably would have wanted to play it big and mug for the camera. Tiwari is subdued and matter of fact, which works winningly here. I hesitate to call his delivery deadpan, but he gets many laughs out of seriously asking if a pumpkin pie is a vegetable or a dessert.
The rest of the cast of Werewolf Ninja Philosopher is a mixed bag. Dixon as the supervising cop is a lot of fun and gets the biggest laugh for her reactions to Werewolf’s initial ideas on the murderer. Dwyer’s only okay as the film critic, in part because she and Tiwari don’t have any onscreen chemistry, so their developing relationship is hard to buy. As the ex with no follow-through, and who seems to change what she wants to do on a daily basis, Lorae is obnoxious. She shares better chemistry with Werewolf than Dwyer, but she’s less fun on her own. This makes the character’s constant wavering grating rather than amusing; which I believe was the intent.
“…Werewolf Ninja Philosopher is not a werewolf. He does not transform into a wolf during the full moon or anything like that. Instead, he is a wolf-man…”
Sadly, the other major issue is the movie’s length. There are a lot of shots of Werewolf walking down the streets of NYC, or standing on a corner thinking. These should’ve been cut down by least a third, if not a full half. The first “walks” work, but it eventual feels like this shot shows up once every ten minutes and it stops the momentum cold. Mind you, the shots are well composed, and the black and white cinematography makes for a beautiful looking picture, budget be damned, but there is no escaping the obvious padding used to make Werewolf Ninja Philosopher reach a feature-length runtime.
The script by director Sujewa Ekanayake works well, especially if one knows noir tropes very well. The gag about (almost) every woman who Werewolf encounters trying to get to know him better is a fun play on the sexually charged banter that infuses the most famous hardboiled detective stories. I for one found the idea of a Celebrity Crimes Unit existing to be hysterical and happily, the punchline is not overused. The mystery is also rather engaging, though the reason Werewolf does not end up dead feels like a cop-out.
There is a fantastic 40 minute short buried in Werewolf Ninja Philosopher, even with the casting issues present. At one hour and 10 minutes though, the film only works in scattered moments; thanks in no small part to the excellent performance by Art Shrian Tiwari.