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Anger Management

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Anger Management

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Adam Sandler
Director: Peter Segal
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 101 Minutes
Release Date: April 2003
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Marisa Tomei, Heather Graham, Luis Guzman, Woody Harrelson, Harry Dean Stanton, John Turturro, Rudolph Giuliani, Kevin Nealon

Review by Harvey Karten
2 stars out of 4

By the way that movies often show psychiatrists and psychologists as leaders of voluntary support groups, in prison settings, as counselors to the rich you'd think that their job consists mostly in offering sympathy and benign encouragement to their patients. After all, if one has a low self-image and expresses this by either withdrawing into a shell or engaging in road rage even if not in a car at all, wouldn't a pat on the back by the psychiatrist indicating that you're his friend be just what the doctor ordered? Not always, as we see from the actions of Dr. Buddy Rydell (Jack Nicholson) in Peter Segal's comedy written by David Dorfman, As wildly unrealistic as the situation are in a movie which, even for a comedy, challenges our willingness to suspend disbelief, effective shrinks may in truth be supportive but not in the way some people think. They may act according to a method that appears hostile when their aim is to attack the patients' neuroses, not the patients themselves. When Dr. Rydell appears to go overboard in that area, we wonder whether he's just playing a sadistic game with his newest patient, Dave Buznik (Adam Sandler) or whether the doctor himself is off-the-wall. After all, do you think a psychologically healthy person would even think of becoming a psychoanalyst just as a person with normal vision may not consider becoming an optometrist? Once you realize that psychiatrists can be nuttier than their patients, you can go along with "Anger Management." What you can't go along with, however, is the silliness, nay the stupidity of this comedy, its gratuitous sentimentality, and its trotting out of celebrities like ex-Mayor Giuliani and his girlfriend Judith Nathan for the sake of bolstering the plot, the stereotypical characterizations of the side roles. To its credit, though a sharp conclusion has enough of a twist to make you acknowledge that the story is not wholly predictable.

The story takes off when Dave has a misunderstanding on a flight resulting in claims filed against him by a flight attendant and a security guard on the aircraft. Ordered by a judge (the late Lynne Thigpen) to undergo an anger management program, the court ups the ante when Dave is again the defendant in an assault case and is ordered to undergo particularly intensive anger management. When his therapist, Dr. Rydell, enters Dave's apartment and forces Dave to let him share a bed or else face the prospect of going to jail, Dave reluctantly agrees. From that point on, Dave is commanded to act in various ways to overcome his alleged anger, a program that includes the necessity to hit on a chic woman in a bar (Heather Graham) despite Dave's protestations that he's engaged and is doing so with utmost reluctance.

Director Peter Segal's idea of comedy is to trot out some stellar actors like John Turturro, John C. Reilly, and Woody Harrelson and load them down as caricatures absurd even for a vulgar comedy. John Turturro in particular becomes increasing irritating on his one-note characterization as Chuck, a terminally angry guy who can settle down only when he delivers an Eskimo chant. Worst of all Jack Nicholson bounces from a brilliant role as a newly retired fellow in "About Schmidt" one in which many a person in the audience can relate by asking, "Is this what I can expect when I leave my job?" to that of a single-note wacko whose performance is unacceptable to any viewer who want some semblance of reality in comedies. Adam Sandler had begun to climb back to the status he held in his best work, "The Wedding Singer," when he took on the complexities of a character in "Punch-Drunk Love." This time he has regressed to his unfortunately generic self.

Copyright 2003 Harvey Karten

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