NOW PLAYING: Anger Management

Posted: Monday, April 14, 2003

Jack Nicholson is a true talent. If there was any question of that, just look at the two completely different roles he has embodied this year. In About Schmidt, he plays a quiet, sedate, repressed man struggling to center his family after the death of his wife. Schmidt is the complete, polar opposite of the character he plays in this week's Anger Management. Here he is pure Jack, and, instead as coming off as self-parody or self-indulgence, he is able to inject the role of anger management psychologist Buddy Rydell with a manic joy that translates perfectly to the audience.

Anger Management is a marketing coup to end all others. What could have easily flopped as little more than a casting curiosity, succeeds by pulling in two entirely different demographics. Film buff Nicholson-ophiles are suddenly thrust into the crowded auditorium beside flatulence loving, Hanukkah singing Adam Sandler fans. And it works perfectly. Aside from a pat and slightly insulting ending, Anger Management is able to successfully show off the talents of both it's stars.

Sandler plays Dave Buznik, a frustrated executive assistant for a pet clothing company. Dave is quiet, polite, and an apparent seething cauldron of barely controlled rage, at least according to his doctor. "There are two kinds of people," lectures Dr. Rydell. "The kind that screams at the cashier for not giving the correct change, and the cashier who holds it all inside until she comes in with a gun and shoots everyone in the store. You're that cashier." "No, no," Dave protests, "I'm the frightened customer trying to hide in the frozen foods, I swear!" Unfortunately for Dave, but good for us, it looks like there's no getting out of his court ordered anger management therapy, so decreed because of a hilarious episode of airline security gone wrong. Nicholson, as mentioned, is Dr. Buddy Rydell, famed psychologist and practitioner of some decidedly unorthodox methods of treatment, one of which requires around the clock "observation." This gimmick, which you'll recognize if you've seen the preview, involves Buddy and Dave becoming roommates, an arrangement that doesn't exactly work out, as you might have guessed. This comedic conceit forms the center of the movie and provides ample opportunities for Nicholson and Sandler to play successfully off each other.

After watching this movie, I decided to reacquaint myself with some of Sandler's earlier comedy. No, I didn't go out and rent any of his movies; I always enjoy Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison, and never enjoy Mr. Deeds or The Waterboy, so I decided there wasn't any point to running through those again. Nor did I check out The Best of Saturday Night Live: Adam Sandler, though it's a pretty funny compilation. Instead, I listened to his first two comedy albums, They're All Gonna Laugh At You, and What the Hell Happened to Me? I was trying to discern what about Sandler had appealed to me, or what had made him the huge star he is today. First off, the albums are dumber than I remember. Six minute sketches of people urinating, farting, or wheezing, respectively, is a pretty good summation of the album content. However, there's something more, and I think it's what clued me into the true nature of my enjoyment of Adam Sandler. Every now and again, he plays an ordinary guy who is forced to deal with extraordinary circumstances; he plays it straight. When he does that, when he's able to reign in that burbling man-child within and actually act, Sandler is a comic genius. He goes blow for blow with the wild and crazy Jack, and does it all by remaining calm and looking slightly confused. I couldn't stop laughing.

Management also scores in the cameo department. Sandler, who must be a pretty friendly guy and always talks his buddies into playing tiny roles in his movies, ups the ante here with appearances by Rudy Guliani, Woody Harrelson, and Heather Graham, among others. Marisa Tomei, as Dave's long suffering girlfriend, is charming and funny, though the role doesn't really require a whole lot. Overall, the acting is well done without any glaring exceptions.

Really, the only problem this movie has is the end, which I won't reveal because it's a "surprise." I guess we can't have a movie without a twist at the end anymore, even a lighthearted comedy like this one. Suffice it to say that the twist makes the whole movie slightly less funny, and really makes very little sense. However, if as the credits role, you find yourself getting really angry with such a ripoff conclusion, calm down - or you might end up with a doctor like Jack. Grade: B+

Anger Management is rated PG-13 for language.

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