Anger Management

Jack Nicholson as Adam Sandler’s therapist — what a coup for Sony’s marketing division. The concept sells itself, and handily bought itself a number-one opening weekend. Anger Management looks like a comedy classic in its trailer, but the trailer is only about three minutes long. That’s about how long it takes for the movie itself to make you say, “Okay, we get it. Fun concept. Are you going to do anything interesting with it?” Sadly, no.

Some say that rage fuels comedy, and Adam Sandler has built his castle on his passive-aggressive persona (emphasis on aggressive). He specializes in the sad-sack regular guy with reserves of fury, which eventually bursts out and, more often than not, works to his benefit (as in his sports movies Happy Gilmore and The Waterboy). Many scenes in Sandler’s films are just marking time until the moment where he loses it. (For his other trick, he has a Gen-X shrug in response to things that baffle him, as in his many “O-kaaaay, psycho man” asides to Nicholson here.) In Anger Management, though, Sandler is cast too snugly in the role of executive whipping boy Dave Buznik, who devised the idea of clothes for rotund cats and privately seethes with resentment that his boss took credit for his brainstorm. This sort of plot worked better when Sandler was an underdog slob, not a stressed-out company man.

Nicholson, as radical therapist Dr. Buddy Rydell, swoops into the picture on fiery Balrog wings and gleefully torments Dave, hoping to free up some of Dave’s repressed anger and then teach him how to process it more fruitfully. Most of the ensuing hijinks, you’ve seen in the trailer; this is one movie whose premise was solid enough, marketing-wise, that it could’ve gotten by with a short teaser trailer that didn’t spoil almost every joke in the movie. Nicholson, too, isn’t exactly cast against type here. Once you’ve understood the dynamic between befuddled Dave and wacky Dr. Buddy — and it takes no great insight to do so — you’ve understood pretty much everything to follow.

Sandler’s movies do tend to attract appreciative buddies, making the films play at times like half-organized parties. John Turturro shows up as one of the loose cannons in Dave’s anger-management support group and gets most of the honest laughs in the movie. Krista Allen and January Jones are amusing as lesbian porn stars, whose presence in a restaurant leads to the film’s best throwaway gag. Woody Harrelson drops by as a German she-male hooker named Galaxia — no, you’re not on drugs; you did indeed just read that sentence. There are the usual cameos, including a New York celebrity who gets to deliver Rob Schneider’s “You can do eet!” bit seen in various Sandler films.

Do we really need a fable about corporate guys getting in touch with their inner brats? Adam Sandler, who turned 37 the year this was released, is getting a little old for roughhousing with Buddhist monks and jokes about penis size. Punch-Drunk Love was supposed to steer him toward a more mature packaging of his persona, but failed because Paul Thomas Anderson believed there was nothing wrong with Sandler’s character that the right woman couldn’t fix. Anger Management arrives at the same disheartening (and dubious) conclusion, adding Jack Nicholson for good measure. As structured, the movie is a narcissist’s dream: everyone — literally, the entire crowd at Yankee Stadium — rises up and gives Dave props for defeating a (silly) childhood demon. Anger Management is a movie for those who think they deserve applause for not being assholes.

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