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 playswellone 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 Tomeiwho, when given the chance, can give extraordinarily nuanced performancesis 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.