Time to play Weakest Link. Who’s responsible for this comedy proving such a disappointment- Jack Nicholson, Adam Sandler or director Peter Segal? Nope. The correct answer: screenwriter David Dorfman.
How powerhouse talent like the film’s two leads could wind up squandered in the service of a novice writer’s hit and miss (surprise- almost all the hits are in the trailer) script is a puzzle less readily solved. Jack and Adam are two of the most sought after movie performers alive. Here’s Dorfman’s complete resume:
His debut was an ensemble comedy ungrammatically entitled “The Boss’s Daughter” and teaming Ashton Kutcher with Tara Reid. The story concerns a young man who falls deeply in love with the offspring of an employer he loathes passionately. Speaking of loathing, Miramax is so enthusiastic about the picture, the studio’s rescheduled its release no fewer than four times. Originally slated to hit theaters last November, the film is currently slotted for the back to school dumping ground of late August.
In the works is a comedy called “Pretty Ugly.” The premise involves a womanizer who wakes up one day, homely and overweight as a result of a curse put on him by a conquest he dumped. His only hope for returning to normal is to win the heart of that woman while still in his cursed condition. A sort of inverse Shallow Hall, the project’s been picked up by Touchstone but as yet has neither a director nor a cast attached.
That makes “Anger Management” just the second script the guy has managed to unload and the only one actually to make it into a movie theater. For the screenplay to receive the kind of A list treatment it did from Sony would be unusual even if it were a work of monumental artistry. It is anything but. Which makes the whole thing even more bizarre.
All we have here, after all, is a more or less one joke affair about a mild-mannered mensch and the unorthodox therapist dedicated to teaching him how to express his frustration and rage. Sandler’s character is sentenced to anger management therapy as a result of a mix up on an airliner (as you’ve no doubt seen already in the ads), Nicholson plays a colorful shrink whose approach calls for him to move in with his patient (as you’ve likewise seen in the ads) and shadow the poor guy everywhere goading him into confronting the people in his life who take advantage of him.
For every truly comical interaction between the two characters (such as the first time they climb into bed together) there are a dozen or so sitcom-level gags which seem familiar, forced or both. The bed scene echoes a famous bit from “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” The running joke which has doctor and patient singing “I Feel Pretty” is lifted verbatim from Analyze This. Plagiarism or Freudian slip?
The therapy group Sandler’s forced to join is a regulation line up of eccentrics. John Turturro is the angry psycho. Luis Guzman’s a standard issue queen, a reject from some off off Broadway “Bird Cage” cattle call. It’s the same group-give or take a pair of lesbian porn stars-we’ve been seeing since the days of “The Bob Newhart Show.”
Nicholson and Sandler try everything. I actually found myself worrying here and there that the About Schmidt star might overexert himself in his effort to shake the film awake. Sandler does what he can with dialogue I feel sure he couldn’t wait to get out of his mouth, but even talent of his caliber has its limits. Over the years, I’ve seen Nicholson gleefully slum his way through any number of dogs but this is the first time I’ve had to watch Sandler operate at less than optimal power. A disheartening sight.
Despite the best efforts of both and those of Segal, who’s no slouch when it comes to comedy (he made the Chris Farley gem “Tommy Boy” as well as Nutty Professor II: The Klumps), “Anger Management” proves maddeningly unsatisfying.
Hold the group therapy. Someone should sentence David Dorfman to a screenwriting seminar.