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Anger Management By Matt Singer
If any team of actors is perfect for a goofy examination of rage, its Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson, the stars of the new film Anger Management. Both have built successful careers out of bombastic screen personas, and you can see the traces of the past creeping around the edges of their new film - Jack employs that manic Joker laugh from Batman and when Sandler’s voices rises to its upper registers, you’d swear he was playing a professional golfer again. Unfortunately, despite Nicholson’s welcome presence, Anger Management is just another Sandler movie in his current cycle, in which he plays a flawed but big-hearted schlub who learns some lessons, yells and breaks things, and earns his girl’s heart in the end with an ending so feel-good it is probably against the law in some countries.
Sandler’s character is Dave Buznik, which sounds like a lost Woody Allen character. Buznik, in a twist for Sandler, is incapable of rage at the start of the film, when a series of unfortunate events on an airplane earns him the wrath of the American justice system and forces him into anger management therapy. The cure is overseen by Dr. Buddy Rydell (Nicholson), an oddball who leads a therapy group full of oddballs, including John Turturro and Luis Guzman in minor roles (And neither is all that good with the tiny bit of material they’re given to work with). Rydell’s unorthodox style includes pulling the hand break in Dave’s car as the pair drive over a bridge, nearly causing a massive rush hour traffic accident, and then forcing him to sing “I Feel Pretty” until he gets his anger under control. This is actually less funny than it sounds, and really, it doesn’t sound all that funny to begin with.
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It seems that while Sandler has a good handle on what he’s doing and where his character is going, Nicholson’s approach is just to act so crazed that we’ll simply give over to his Buddy, laughing because he’s a nut acting nutty. Personally, I couldn’t wrap my head around what Buddy’s approach is, even as he claims Dave is making progress. If you’re confused as to why people are acting the way they do, well I was too. Eventually a twist ending (ANOTHER twist ending! Enough already!) “explains” the inconsistencies, but by that point, you’ve given up on anything but trying to laugh at the mostly lame comedy.
The leads do have a strong on-screen relationship, and you almost wish the two could get a better script - with a smarter character for Nicholson to play - and redo this whole mess. The concept is so strong, and the first fifteen minutes so well calibrated, that it’s extra disappointing when the rest of this lengthy comedies flails about for any comedy from anything. Eventually, Anger Management settles into place where everything feels recycled: even Dave’s apartment looks identical to the one Sandler had in Big Daddy. When Dave and Buddy beat up some Monks, you can really feel the desperation, even as Nicholson wrings some of the film’s biggest laughs through force of will alone.
If you haven’t seen last year’s Punch-Drunk Love yet, I have to reassert my recommendation for that most unusual and outstanding Adam Sandler film. In it, Sandler’s persona was really turned on its ear, and writer-director P.T. Anderson really seemed to give some thought to Sandler’s rageful persona. For that matter, Nicholson played a totally different character in About Schmidt, but was nonetheless outstanding in a warm movie that deserved to be seen by a wider audience. After the highs of last year, Anger Management feels like two men slumming for some cash (though the same could also be said of Marisa Tomei player Sandler’s girlfriend). Forget the anger part, maybe these guys just need better management.