Who’d have thought that Adam Sandler would ever play the straight man? Of course, when you realize that he’s playing against Jack Nicholson, it does kind of make sense. Sure, Nicholson has played it straight a few times in his life, most recently in the Oscar-nominated About Schmidt. But he usually plays real over-the-top characters.
Yes, I do realize that I just mentioned both “Adam Sandler” and “Oscar” together in the same paragraph. I promise. This will never happen again. In any publication. Ever.
I was pretty excited to see “Anger Management,” actually. I like both Sandler and Nicholson, and they both have a dark edge that one might think would give them decent chemistry. Well, it did, and that was part of the problem. Their chemistry was only decent. It wasn’t great.
“Anger Management” comes from a long history of pairing two pretty big stars together in the hopes that the final film will be at least twice as good as any of their other movies. Sadly, the track record for this sort of pairing is pretty poor. There are some historical flops, like John Travolta and Lily Tomlin in 1978’s “Moment By Moment.” And, there are some historical successes, like Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey in “Dumb and Dumber.” However, most of the times, the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts.
Such is the case with “Anger Management.” Is it a Sandler movie? Or is it a Nicholson movie? I really don’t know, and I doubt the film does either.
“Anger Management” tells the story of Dave Buznik (Sandler), who is the textbook definition of a nice guy. He doesn’t shout. He doesn’t get obnoxious. He doesn’t blow up at people for no good reason. In short, he’s simply the opposite of practically every other character Sandler has ever played in his life.
I’ll spare the long plot explanation because it’s covering old ground for anyone who has seen the trailer (which is hard to avoid on television or the Internet). Let’s just say that Dave has an altercation on a plane and is sentenced to anger management therapy with the unconventional Dr. Buddy Rydell (Nicholson).
The root of “Anger Management’s” problems is that so much of the film is given away in the trailers. Don’t misjudge this as a rant about how much trailers give away in general. That’s a different debate entirely. For “Anger Management,” the first thirty minutes of the film is easily summarized in the trailer – to the point that the first half hour is pretty boring because you’re waiting to see the story take off. By the time Buddy is throwing eggs against the wall, new things start to happen. And this might be a little too late.
Dave does have an anger problem. He’s the U.S. Postal employee who just hasn’t picked up his AK-47 on his way to work yet. We see several times when Dave is trying to keep his rage inside, but what was missing from the film was his tendency to explode at all. Still, Sandler does a decent job building his frustration throughout the movie, and even those of us who aren’t paranoid would recognize his situation as one in which everyone is out to get him.
One aspect of the film that is not terribly prevalent in trailers is Marisa Tomei as Dave’s girlfriend Linda. She figures prominently in the plot because one of Dave’s biggest rivals is Linda’s college chum Andrew (Allen Covert), who is carrying a torch for Linda. To make matters worse, Andrew is hung like a horse while Dave is hung more like a chinchilla. Of course, Tomei is as cute as ever in the film, and although they overdo her biting her lip to make her adorable, it never gets old for me.
As with many films nowadays, the supporting cast actually shines more than the principles, and “Anger Management” is no exception. Some great supporting roles include John C. Reilly as the boyhood bully turned Buddhist monk, the exceptionally gorgeous Krista Allen and January Jones as lesbian porno stars with some anger problems, Woody Harrelson as a she-male prostitute, Heather Graham as a sexy barfly hung up on her weight and John Turturro as a Grenada veteran rage-aholic.
Adam Sandler’s been trying to keep mainstream after his success of The Wedding Singer. He’s still struggling to keep some edge like we saw in his earlier films like “Billy Madison” and “Happy Gilmore.” However, “Anger Management” gives us a diluted Sandler in his quest to make all of his films as date-friendly as Big Daddy was.
Hey, at least he’s not trying to make every movie Little Nicky.