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Here, we prepare to look at a movie in which one of the most respected dramatic actors in history hams it up while one of the industry's top comedic names plays his counterpart straight down the middle. And no, there's not another sequel to ANALYZE THIS coming out.
If you had told me a year ago there'd be a comedy coming out in the Spring where Adam Sandler was going to be playing the straight man, I'd have told you that you were nuts. Of course, I have a tendency to tell absolute strangers who try and predict the future of such trivial things that they're nuts to begin with, so that really shouldn't suprise you. But yes, it does seem strange that the man who made a career out of acting like a four year old is suddenly playing the Abbott to Jack Nicholson's Costello, especially considering it's been a less than a year since his latest experiment in sophomoric humor, MR. DEEDS, hit theaters. But then again, Nicholson himself is an actor so good at playing off-the-wall characters that it almost seems fitting that in this pairing, the roles work in the way that they do.
I walked in to ANGER MANAGEMENT with a lot of trepidation. This had the potential to either be a very funny movie or an absolute train wreck, with little room inbetween. Fortunately, things worked out okay, with the film leaning more toward the former than the latter. Sure, it tends to miss the boat here and there, but overall, I walked out with a lot better feeling than I expected. Sure, that might have had something to do with the fact that the theater I saw it in was serving and I managed to down half a bottle of red wine during the course of the film, but that's beside the point.
Sandler and Nicholson, both fresh from buzzworthy roles in PUNCH DRUNK LOVE and ABOUT SCHMIDT respectively, have returned from the arthouse to team up in a patient-doctor relationship based on an almost ridiculous concept. Sandler plays Dave Buznik, a pretty normal fellow who designs winter fashions for overweight felines. One day while on a business flight, an overly sensitive flight attendant makes too much out of a simple request, and Buznik is sentenced to Anger Management therapy. The instructor for the class, Dr. Buddy Rydell, portrayed by Nicholson, seems as much of a nutcase as the other patients. Among them are a sports freak who goes nuts when his team loses, a pair of adult film starlets/lovers who didn't take kindly to the actions of a third party in their relationship, a homosexual latino with a tendency to black out and beat folks up, and a paranoid insomniac who has a habit of picking fights with strangers. The last character, played by John Turturro, lands Buznik back in front of a judge, where he is sentenced to prison. Rydell makes a case for Buznik, offering a special therapy in lieu of jailtime. Unfortunately for Dave, it involves being in Buddy's care at all times: While at home, at his work, and even when Buddy needs to skip town.
The concept of the movie is clever, even if, in typical Hollywood fashion, it's a bit far-fetched. But really, it's the movies. How much do you really want to see everyday scenarios played out? The execution of the concept is a respectable effort, but leads to a few predictable story arcs that could have been ironed out a little better. The final arc, in which Rydell's actions cause Buznik to lose his girlfriend Linda (Marisa Tomei), is a bit contrived and you'll see the end of it coming a mile away. Fortunately, the actors do a pretty decent job of making the best out of the material they're given. Sandler is better suited for the roles he's famous for, the overgrown child with equal parts charm and rage, but he does fine with what he's asked here. Sure, his role could be filled by any number of comedic actors, but Sandler's got a certain undeniable screen presence that, love him or hate him, is always more interesting than not. Nicholson, on the other hand, looks like he's having the time of his life here, and is really the key piece in this whole puzzle. He plays Buddy with such comic intensity that it's hard to imagine that just a few months ago we were witnessing such a believeable portrayal of a crochety old man by the same actor. He's almost demonic in his intensity, as his pointed goatee and trademark eyebrows help express.
Of course, I do have a message for those responsible for the casting of some of the celebrity cameo players: Baseball players can't act. One only needs to witness Mike "I swear I'm not wearing eyeliner" Piazza shilling long distance service to know this fact. Roger Clemens and Derek Jeter, if only for a moment, turn in some of the worst cue-card readings ever witnessed. They're just the icing on the cameo cake, however. The walkons come at you in rapid-fire succession, ranging from noted character actors (Harry Dean Stanton is a blind man who gets involved in a scuffle, while John C. Reilly morphs into the world's most violent Zen Monk), big Hollywood guns (Heather Graham shows up as a barfly and Woody Harrelson appears in drag and a German accent, and yes, you did read that right) to sports figures (John Mcenroe and Bobby Knight, fittingly appearing in a film entitled ANGER MANAGEMENT, join the aforementioned Yankees in cameos) to former New York City mayor Rudy Guliani, whose appearance is gratuitous at best.
Peter Segal, who has been slowly building his comedic resume by picking up on sequels to popular comedy franchises such as THE NUTTY PROFESSOR and THE NAKED GUN as well as a couple originals in TOMMY BOY and MY FELLOW AMERICANS, certainly has the potential to make a great, memorable comedy, but he's still showing that he's barely got his feet wet. The movies not the most well-paced or perfectly edited film ever created, but it certainly isn't as offensive as it could have easily been. Some of the little quirks in the film never really get fleshed out to satisfaction (Sandler sidekick Allen Covert's well-endowed Andrew is a actually a pretty interesting antagonist for Dave, but his presence seems to diminish just at the time it would seem to be most useful). Where Segal goes from here is up to him, but he's not showing yet that he's nearly as capable as a Tom Shadyac or Peter Farrelly.
Still, with ANGER MANAGEMENT, you get pretty much exactly what you expect. I found myself enjoying it a lot more than I expected to, but also felt that it could have been something more. The movie seems at times to suffer from a split personality, not sure if it should just be all gags or to try and have a heart, but overall follows a tone not far removed from the majority of the rest of Sandler's work. The only difference here is that Sandler isn't the one pushing the over-the-top moments in this one.
Just don't be too suprised that the funniest gags are in the trailers.
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