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Enough to make you lose your temper

Want to see Jack Nicholson goad Adam Sandler into blowing up? Want to see it happen again? And again and again? That, unfortunately, is the entire plot of Anger Management.

By STEVE PERSALL, Times Film Critic

© St. Petersburg Times
published April 10, 2003

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[Photo: Sony Pictures]
Dave Buznik (Adam Sandler) and his wacky psychologist, Dr. Buddy Rydell (Jack Nicholson), in Anger Management.

Anger Management is a movie that exists only because of its casting. That's smart when the lead roles fit Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson like straitjackets, two actors on a lunatic binge their fans can't help but enjoy.

Sandler plays Dave Buznik, a guy beginning the story in mild-mannered Punch-Drunk Love mode and winding up something like Happy Gilmore, aggressively comical in a neo-slapstick fashion. Through no fault of his own, Dave gets sentenced to anger management therapy he doesn't need but gradually will.

Nicholson plays Dr. Buddy Rydell, a wacky psychologist who has nothing in common with the About Schmidt role that smothered his personality in monotone pathos. Dr. Buddy would make R.P. McMurphy fly back to the cuckoo's nest rather than enduring his cure. Dr. Buddy spends the movie pushing Dave's buttons, goading him into tantrums apparently for the fun of it.

That's the idea behind Anger Management and, unfortunately, that's the whole movie. Viewers get the idea around the third or fourth time Dave blows up at something Dr. Buddy suggests. The movie would be better if it were leaner by about 20 minutes, but that's where the negative impact of plot-by-casting-choices sets in.

Director Peter Segal (Tommy Boy, Nutty Professor II) stretches the premise to precarious lengths by justifying the appearances of several celebrities in small roles or sight gags. Marisa Tomei is wasted as a romantic interest. Dr. Buddy's group therapy sessions would be snappier if John Turturro and Luis Guzman didn't require as much screen time for their one-joke characters. It takes too long for John C. Reilly's bully-turned-Buddhist to blow his top, and the resulting foot chase is dull. Sure, Bobby Knight is a hothead, but he's a better punch line than actor. The same goes for Rudy Giuliani.

By the time Woody Harrelson shows up as a drag queen with nothing funny to say for several minutes, Anger Management betrays itself as a pitch meeting that went too far, and a production that was probably more riotous fun on the set than it is on screen.

Better that Segal had looked to What About Bob? for an outline of how to handle Nicholson and Sandler in these reversed roles. That movie placed its neurotic patient (Bill Murray) and simmering psychologist (Richard Dreyfuss) in a forest cabin with few personal distractions and let them butt heads. Segal turns his movie into a block party with too many people trying to wear lamp shades for anyone to have a chance to be funny.

Except, of course, Nicholson and Sandler. This is a movie match made in hysteria, with Nicholson's devilish mugging competing against Sandler's man-child mumbling for the biggest laughs in the film.

Funny, though, that I can't recall a single line they deliver three weeks after seeing Anger Management, except for the ubiquitous preview trailers, of course. That's the fault of David Dorfman's screenplay, not the actors. But with lame comedies like Bringing Down the House and Head of State commanding the box office during wartime, we could do a lot worse.

Anger Management

  • Grade: B-
  • Director: Peter Segal
  • Cast: Jack Nicholson, Adam Sandler, Marisa Tomei, Lynne Thigpen, John C. Reilly, John Turturro, Kevin Nealon
  • Screenplay: David Dorfman
  • Rating: PG-13, profanity, crude sexual content
  • Running time: 110 min.

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