Review by Dustin Putman
2 stars out of 4
Notwithstanding Paul Thomas Anderson's challenging 2002 film, "Punch-Drunk
Love," Adam Sandler has been known to play one of two different types
of characters, each surrounded by the same basic plot conventions
and a tried-and-true love interest. Sandler's normal, sweet-guy roles
have unquestionably been more successful, such as his best picture,
1998's "The Wedding Singer" (opposite Drew Barrymore), 1999's "Big
Daddy" (Joey Lauren Adams), and 2002's "Mr. Deeds" (Winona Ryder),
while his more goofy, mean-spirited parts have fallen flat, as in
1995's "Billy Madison" (Bridgette Wilson), 1998's "The Waterboy" (Fairuza
Balk), and 2000's "Little Nicky" (Patricia Arquette). Despite falling
into the former, statistically more promising category, "Anger Management"
goes against the odds to place as one of Sandler's weaker, more slapdash efforts.
This time, Sandler is paired with not only Marisa Tomei (2001's "In
the Bedroom"), but Jack Nicholson (2002's "About Schmidt"), an acting
legend who automatically gives the film a level of prestige it doesn't
deserve. Despite the talent involved, director Peter Segal (2000's
"Nutty Professor II: The Klumps") and screenwriter David Dorfman let
all the respective parties down, offering no one the kind of high-level
comedic material they deserve. There is the occasional laugh in "Anger
Management," to be sure, but it is an undoubted certainty that each
and every funny moment can be accounted to the performers' skills,
rather than to standout or original writing.
David Buznik (Adam Sandler), a soft-spoken and mild-mannered ad executive
for animal products with a sweet girlfriend named Linda (Marisa Tomei),
is the epitome of bland kindness. When a misunderstood argument occurs
on a plane trip, David suddenly finds himself sentenced to anger management
sessions, taught by the wildly unorthodox Dr. Buddy Rydell (Jack Nicholson).
And when a second misconstrued run-in with the law leaves David facing
jail time, he instead agrees to allow Buddy to move in with him, acting
as his psychiatrist for the next thirty days. As Buddy sets out to
"cure" David, David suddenly finds his world turned upside down by
the doctor's irrational and outrageous methods.
With the unlikely pairing of Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson, "Anger
Management" had what it took to create genuine comic hilarity out
of their differing personalities, but chooses not to take advantage
of it. As the put-upon David, Adam Sandler plays--well--one of his
most restrained characters to date, but there is not a hint of complexity
in him. As for Dr. Buddy Rydell, who in one of the film's brighter
scenes forces himself into David's bed only to forwardly confess that
he likes "to sleep in the nude," Jack Nicholson slums through the
proceedings, given little more to do than exaggerate his famous eyebrow-raising mannerism.
In the inevitable romantic subplot, Marisa Tomei--who, when given
the chance, can give extraordinarily nuanced performances--is the
movie's biggest missed opportunity. Tomei, who won an Academy Award
for her unforgettably hilarious turn in 1992's "My Cousin Vinny,"
has such sharp comic timing that it is nearly a criminal act for this
movie to waste her abilities. As Linda, Tomei pops up every now and
again to stand around and look patient. No attempt is made to turn
her into an actual character; the viewer is never even clued into
what she does for a living. The less said about the chemistry between
she and Sandler, the better.
That leaves a handful of the supporting characters to attempt to salvage
the day. Luis Guzman (2000's "Traffic"), as the hostile, effeminate
Lou, and John Turturro (2002's "Collateral Damage"), as fellow anger
management assignee Chuck, brighten up every scene they are in. In
smaller roles still, Heather Graham (2001's "Sidewalks of New York"),
as a sultry, unstable bargoer, and Woody Harrelson (1999's "EdTV"),
as a transvestite, are surprisingly funny. Even former Mayor of New
York Rudy Guiliani shows up in the climax, but his cameo is groan-inducing in the extreme.
It is a shame director Peter Segal has chosen to botch the finished
product of "Anger Management." Even when there are laughs to be found,
the movie is strictly a perfunctory affair, bawdy on the outside and
hollow on the inside. By playing things safe around every corner,
it is stripped of a solid reason for being. A biting satire could
have been made out of the topic of anger management classes, but "Anger
Management" is, unfortunately, not that picture.
Copyright © 2003 Dustin Putman