Film Reviews: Wednesday, April 10, 2003
Diary of a Mad Man

Adam Sandler provides therapeutic laughter in Anger Management.


The agreeable new comedy Anger Management isnít in the same league as Adam Sandlerís last movie, Punch-Drunk Love, but it shows him continuing to stretch himself. It does this even though both movies are about Sandlerís rage. In contrast to his poorly repressed Barry Egan from Punch-Drunk Love, his Dave Buznik in this movie is profoundly out of touch with his anger. When heís convicted on a bogus assault charge and sentenced to undergo psychological counseling, he ends up with Dr. Buddy Rydell (Jack Nicholson), who diagnoses Dave as suffering from ďimplosive anger.Ē The good doctor explains, ďExplosive anger is the guy at the checkout line screaming at the cashier for not taking his coupons. Implosive anger is the cashier who sits there and takes it until the day he snaps and shoots everybody in the store.Ē (ďIím neither,Ē Dave protests. ďIím the guy cowering in the frozen food section dialing 911 on my cell phone.Ē) Buddy promptly moves into Daveís apartment and subjects him to all manner of outrageous behavior and degrading exercises that seem designed to make him lose his temper.

The movieís basic strategy is to use Sandler as a straight man to a bunch of comically grotesque characters, and it pays off beautifully. Sandler nimbly executes a vast repertoire of slow burns, puzzled looks, and worried glances. This role allows him more intelligence and self-awareness than ever, and it looks good on him. Maybe itís not saying much to call this his most understated performance, but this is the sort of acting job that Ben Stillerís called on to do all the time, and Sandlerís much funnier in it. Thatís saying a lot.

Itís a good thing, too, because the talented supporting cast is shockingly below his level. Nicholson dusts off his wacky-lovable act once again, and though he gives some of his usual verve, heís done it all before. (His co-starís display of new moves only emphasizes this.) Marisa Tomei is the latest to fall victim to an underwritten leading lady part opposite Sandler ó their romance is a key to the film, and it has no urgency. John Turturro recycles his shtick as a violent ex-convict, while Luis GuzmŠn for once lapses into stereotype as a gay counselee. In small roles, Woody Harrelson, Heather Graham, and John C. Reilly arenít at their best, either.

The cast isnít the only flaw here. The revelation that much of Buddyís treatment is a set-up is a lazy bit of writing. Director Peter Segal and screenwriter David Dorfman recognize the importance of getting mad, but their movie makes too easy a task of getting in touch with oneís rage and then channeling it constructively. For a film thatís about getting mad, Anger Management is too nice.

Even so, whenever the laughs appear to be petering out, Sandler makes a small change to his facial expression and gets them going again. He works so hard here that itís difficult to believe that this is the same actor who loafed his way through Big Daddy and Mr. Deeds. Comedians can go stale pretty easily, but Adam Sandler deserves credit for finally finding a way to be fresh.

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