As the war heats up, audiences are chilling out at movie comedies. And we're not fussy. Bringing Down the House and Head of State are inexplicable hits. Marked on that low curve, Anger Management is a big improvement. You smile just thinking about Adam Sandler as a schlub forced to take anger-management classes from a rageaholic shrink played by Jack Nicholson. It makes a cracked sort of sense. Sandler is always getting pissed off onscreen, from Happy Gilmore to Mr. Deeds. Nicholson has won Oscars for going cuckoo, and off camera he once bashed in someone's windshield with a golf club. In Anger Management, he uses a baseball bat. Teaming these two should be furious fun. "I'm wetting my Jockeys here," Nicholson tells Sandler at one point. Well, it's not that funny.
You don't produce classic farce by going sitcom. Sandler doesn't rise to Nicholson's level — Nicholson sinks to the Waterboy mark. We're a long way from Punch Drunk Love, the P.T. Anderson film that showed hidden depths in Sandler. Anger Management is directed by Peter Segal, the auteur of Nutty Professor II: The Klumps. The script is by David Dorfman, who saves his wit for the film's production notes, describing himself as "a former CIA assassin who killed nineteen men while ostensibly working as a writer for The Price Is Right."
That said, Anger Management has its moments. It helps that Sandler underplays. As Dave Buznik, he designs clothes for fat felines, lets his boss demean him and is too timid to kiss his girl, Linda (perky Marisa Tomei), in public. Falsely accused of air rage (he only asked for a headset), Dave is ordered to anger therapy with Dr. Buddy Rydell, hammed by Nicholson with all the eye-bugging, brow-wiggling, scenery-chomping swagger he shunned in About Schmidt. Lock up the kids and grandma, this is Jack unleashed.
It's good fun for a while, especially the therapy sessions that feature Luis Guzman as a gay hood with a paunch he covers in Day-Glo spandex and John Turturro as Dave's "anger buddy." John C. Reilly also scores as a bully turned Buddhist monk. The plot kicks in when Buddy hits on Linda. "You put your crazy, corroded tongue in my girlfriend's mouth," seethes Dave.
If this makes no sense, the ending — as bogus as the one in Basic — clears it up. The jokes stay hit-and-miss. Buddy trying to calm Dave by crooning "I Feel Pretty" might work if Robert De Niro hadn't just done it in Analyze That. But you hear the thud when Buddy tells Dave to seduce a bar girl (Heather Graham) with the line "You make me explode in my pants."
here's a desperation in how the movie loads up on cameos, from Woody Harrelson as a German drag queen known for "lickinzeedickin" to John McEnroe, Bobby Knight and Rudy Giuliani as themselves. "You can do it," Rudy shouts to Dave at a Yankee game. Sandler can do it; so can Nicholson. What gets you angry is they didn't do it better.