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Anger Management

2003anger

Movie review by Greg Carlson

As evidenced by the numbers of people turning out to see it, “Anger Management” is as close to a sure-fire success as you can get. The inspired teaming of the legendary Jack Nicholson and the, well, not legendary Adam Sandler covered a wide enough demographic for the honchos at Sony Pictures to start salivating even before the weekend totals started rolling in. The only problem with the movie is that it is not very funny. Or entertaining. “Anger Management” looks reasonably sharp and clever on paper, but on the big screen, the movie is clearly more “Big Daddy” than “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

A quick scan of the credits indicates that, sadly, “Anger Management” is just another clone from the well-oiled Sandler machine, a Happy-Madison production brought to you by the team behind “The Animal.” In the movie, Sandler plays human doormat Dave Buznik, a meek loser who toils away in cubicle hell as a designer of clothing for overweight housecats. Despite his intrinsic timidity, Dave inexplicably dates the dishy, sweet Linda (Marisa Tomei, treated like an afterthought), who doesn’t seem to mind that the rest of the world walks all over her man.

Following a series of misunderstandings on a plane during a business trip – one of the only marginally comical sequences in the movie – Dave is sentenced by a judge (the late, great Lynne Thigpen) to anger management class. Administrated by author and anger expert Dr. Buddy Rydell (Nicholson), Dave’s class is populated by an odd assortment of apoplectic lunatics that range from a pair of lesbian porn stars to a traumatized veteran of the Grenada invasion. Dave quickly figures out that Buddy is just as nuts as his patients, but, facing jail time as an alternative, he is forced to go along.

Once the cockamamie premise is firmly established, with Buddy literally moving in to Dave’s apartment and sharing his bed, the Sandler-Nicholson interplay takes over, and the two performers lay it on with relish, lurching through a contemptibly daffy string of unfunny bits, poorly staged by director Peter Segal, whose resume includes “Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult.” Screenwriter David Dorfman also earns his share of the blame, relying on pathetic clichés and ill-conceived confrontations that wouldn’t even draw a chuckle from most kindergartners.

One segment, for example, finds Dave and Buddy descending on a Buddhist monastery to settle a score with Dave’s childhood nemesis. Even with the considerable talents of John C. Reilly at the filmmakers’ disposal, the best they can do is a tired physical slapstick that ends with a head-butt and an orange-robed wedgie. In addition to Reilly, “Anger Management” enlists a parade of stars in cameo performances, to no avail. From Bobby Knight, John McEnroe, and Rudy Giuliani to Luis Guzman, John Turturro, Woody Harrelson, Heather Graham, and Harry Dean Stanton, the movie comes off as downright desperate to please. The supporting players do nothing, however, to enhance the movie’s minimal coherence, and “Anger Management” ends as it began: a irreparable, pointless goner.

This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 4/14/03.

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