Anger Management

The formula for “Anger Management” is so foolproof that the only way the filmmakers could screw it up is to add Madonna to the cast. I knew from watching the audience’s reaction to the coming attraction trailer that it was going to be a big hit.

Too bad the movie doesn’t live up to the trailer. Despite moments of outright hilarity, “Anger Management” could use some script management, another swipe or two to bring all of the elements together into a cohesive whole.

One of the rules of comedy is to cast against type, and that’s exactly what “Anger Management” does best, taking the usually abrasive Adam Sandler and turning him into a sad sap in desperate need of an image make-over. Sandler plays Dave Buiznik, a man beaten down by life. Working for a pet specialty company that makes, of all things, fat fashions for cats, Dave bottles up his emotions, even allowing others take credit for his ideas.

Dave is the human equivalent of a stick of dynamite with a wet wick, ready to explode but lacking the fuse. All that changes when Dave finds himself on a flight where he’s wrongly accused by an attendant of assault, leading to his arrest and eventual court ordered anger management. Like most of Sandler’s movies, it’s a contrived piece of business, the launching pad for bigger things to come.

Those bigger things include becoming the ward of therapist Dr. Buddy Rydell (Jack Nicholson), who brings Dave into his fold, hoping to tap into his deeply buried resentment. When his experiment fails and Dave ends up facing more jail time, Rydell convinces the court that he can control his out-of-control client. The joke is on Dave, because if anyone needs “Anger Management,” it’s the good doctor.

Nicholson is a master of playing tightly wound, over-the-top characters, and is perfectly cast as Rydell, who pushes Dave so hard that he ends up creating a replica of himself.

Both Sandler and Nicholson are coming off career high points, Sandler in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Punch Drunk Love,” and Nicholson in “About Schmidt.” It’s a step down for both, but “Anger Management” isn’t a total disaster.

Writer David Dorfman fills the film with some choice moments of comic insanity, balanced every now and then with earnest attempts at making the characters more human than cartoon. Sandler and Nicholson are professional enough to see the peaks and reach for them, even if director Peter Segal seems content letting them wallow in the valleys of vapidity.

Segal directs the film like a comedian, working too hard to get a laugh, when all he had to do is pull back and let the laughs flow. Sandler has proven that he can be a sap worth rooting for, but his transformation from unwelcome mat to full-fledged basket case goes beyond reason. It’s unfathomable that Dave could attract, much less, keep a girlfriend like Linda, played with bubbly infection by Marisa Tomei. You feel sorry for Tomei, her character is nothing more than a plot device to fuel lame jokes.

The film features a multitude of showy cameos, one-joke walk-ons designed to elicit laughs, but is tossing tennis bad boy John McEnroe into the mix as an angry man really that funny? John Turturro and Luis Guzman fare better as two of Rydell’s patients assigned to help Dave reach his potential.

None of this really matters, because audiences could care less. They want to see Sandler and Nicholson act like Beavis and Butthead, and with that criteria, they won’t be disappointed.


Nicholson, Sandler deal with their “Anger”


Adam Sandler, Jack Nicholson, Marisa Tomei, Luis Guzman, Allen Covert, Lynne Thigpen. Directed by Peter Segal. Rated PG-13. 101 Minutes.


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