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Jay Richardson

Published June 6th, 2003 | by Jay Richardson

Anger Management Review

There are, Jack Nicholson informs Adam Sandler in Anger Management, two kinds of angry people: Those who explode, directing their rage outwards, and those who implode, storing up resentment until one day they gun down everyone in their office. As a summary of what the pair bring to the film, it has a nice symmetry. Nicholson, like his character here, Dr Buddy Rydell, has been known to swing golf clubs at car windscreens, and anyone who saw him wield an axe in The Shining, attack Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, or slap Faye Dunaway insensible in Chinatown, appreciates the incendiary immediacy he brings to a screen. Sandler by contrast, has built a career playing slow-imploders. His characters tend to be bullied from the outset, with successive humiliations contorting his face into that trademark gargoylic incredulity, until he finally blows up on the object of his torment. He generally eschews the sniper on the roof reaction though, the box-office preferring him to re-unite with his girlfriend.

As Dave Buznik, Sandler begins Anger Management in his usual vein, that is, veins initially at least, not bulging from his temple. After the obligatory childhood embarrassment scene, we meet the adult Dave, a corporate drone designing coats for tubby cats. About to take a business trip, but uncomfortable with public affection, he boards his flight without kissing goodbye to girlfriend Linda (Marisa Tomei). Eventually finding a seat, his mild request for headphones is misinterpreted as an angry demand by the stewardess, who lectures him on the need for civility “at this difficult time for our country”. Matters escalate until security electric-shocks him into unconsciousness and he is instructed by a judge to attend Rydell’s anger management classes.

Arriving at the class, Dave discovers Rydell is none other than the man who sat next to him on the plane, the less-than-indirect cause of his current predicament. Rydell’s class also includes Luis Guzman as a paunch-heaving queen, two decidedly bi-sexual porn actresses and Chuck (John Turturro), a psychotic ex-soldier assigned as Dave’s “anger buddy”. After going to a bar to talk, Dave is horrified to see Chuck pick a fight but ends up breaking a waitress’ nose with a blind man’s cane. He’s heading to jail unless he allows Rydell to move in with him.

What follows is simply a tremendous waste of talent. The lowbrow comedy of Sandler and the raised eyebrows of Nicholson – even occasionally coasting through the motions – is actually an amusing pairing, with a couple of brilliant scenes emerging: the initial flight; Rydell urging Dave to stop his car in traffic to sing songs from West Side Story; a leering Rydell motioning Dave to chat-up a beautiful stranger (Heather Graham). But these are rare highlights in a script that obviously thinks just having them together is enough. It’s funny throughout, but never as funny as it should be and the plot infuriates by being completely nonsensical. Work back from the cloying ending to figure out Linda’s motivations for example.

As the only two real supports, both the routinely excellent Turturro and Tomei are criminally underused, with the former prevented from developing beyond his first appearance and the latter asked to do little more than bite her lip at Dave’s inadequacies.

And then there are the never-ending cameos, which exist for nothing but their own sake. They range from the good (John C. Reilly as the bully turned Buddhist), to the okay (Graham), the inexplicable (Woody Harrelson as a German transvestite), to the depressing (the legendary Harry Dean Stanton as the blind man), and the embarrassing (John McEnroe playing himself in Rydell’s class) to the frankly horrible (former New York mayor Ruldolph Giuliani urging Dave to … urrggh it’s too nauseating, I’ll let you see it for yourself).

From a broad exploration of American anger, with an-odd couple promise that could have enhanced both Nicholson and Sandler’s resume, this becomes just the broadest of comedies, good for a few cheap laughs but little more than that.


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