Anger Management (15)
The casting of this movie concept (by Roger Mussenden, if you’re interested) should have been foolproof: pit mild-mannered loser Adam Sandler against psychotic anger therapist Jack Nicholson and watch his life unravel before your very eyes.
Except, of course, that Sandler, a one-note comedian in a one-joke film, simply gets chewed up and spat out by Nicholson in characteristically vulpine form, who hams it up to the nines while spouting dialogue that would make Freud spin in his casket.
The storyline is simple. Lifelong doormat Dave Buznik (Sandler) unaccountably finds himself caught up in an air rage incident that culminates in him being zapped with a tazer gun. He winds up in court where the judge orders him to attend anger management classes under the guidance of unorthodox counsellor Dr Buddy Rydell (Nicholson in beret and beard).
Before long Dave finds himself locked into an increasingly bizarre series of classes with an array of psyched-up nutters including a chubby gay latino (the brilliant Luis Guzman), a pair of pneumatic lesbian porn stars, a sports obsessive and army veteran Chuck, played with mad-eyed, OTT panache by John Turturro in the kind of extended cameo he does so well.
As Buddy’s methods become more extreme – he moves in with Dave, makes a play for his girlfriend Linda (Marisa Tomei, underused) and urges him to pick fights with school bullies from his past – so Dave finds it harder to break free. With Chuck as his anger ally, Buddy eyeing up Linda and a slimy work rival angling for his job, Dave finds himself on the verge of exploding. As one character yells: “The anger sharks are swimming in my head!” Quite.
Anger Management is a movie that is easy to like despite the presence of Sandler and, indeed, Nicholson, here delivering a variation of the performances he gave in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and As Good as it Gets. The loser, as in the film, is Sandler, who never gets to do anything other than react to Nicholson and the chaos he causes.
It’s also only intermittently funny. Packed with guest cameos, from Woody Harrelson as a muscle-bound transvestite and Heather Graham as a beautiful pick-up with an obsession about her weight (“Go on – say it! You think I’m fat! A fat pig. A big FAT PIG!”) through to former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, Anger Management is a lazy comedy that goes for the obvious gags and gets the resultant laughs.
Sandler, playing to type as the worm that turns, here abandons the strengths that made him so interesting in Punch Drunk Love and instead merely acts as a foil to Nicholson. He does have a couple of good moments, in particular a confrontation with the childhood school nemesis, now a Buddhist monk, that turns into a fistfight involving nipple tweaking and head butts. Again, the power of the sequence comes from John C Reilly, as the monk, rather than Sandler.
Nicholson merely goes through the motions in a part he could have sent in via text messaging. The fact that he’s as funny as he is goes to show how long he’s been honing that particular image. Still, in the hands of director Peter Segal, who helmed The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult, this is a far better film that it would have been in the hands of someone like Jerry Zucker. David Dorfman’s script, though it peters out, is also a minor saving grace – even if it does rely on tired Sandler stand-bys such as fart and penis jokes.
Star rating: ***