April 17, 2003

Temper, Temper

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Too much of anything is a bad thing. Well, not for Adam Sandler that is. Any person who hasn’t been in a coma for the past decade would know that the ex-SNL sensation has emerged as the leading man in an array of extremely successful comedies reliant on his humor more than acting or script. Don’t get me wrong, Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison are two of my all-time favorites; instant classics. Only thing is that they’re both seven to eight years-old. Since then, Sandler’s films, though consistently funny and in the spotlight, have been interchangeable with plot and characters. Within the past year he showed his talent for acting and used his goofy characteristics in a more dramatic fashion in the underrated Punch Drunk Love. Combine this Steve Martin-like switch from comedy to a different genre with a co-star like Jack Nicholson, (who also took on an unusual role for himself in the recent About Schmidt), and you have a blend of actors whose notorious reputations make Anger Management quite inviting. The movie revolves around Dave Buznik (Sandler), who is unjustifiably put in an anger management program led by Buddy Rydell (Nicholson). Despite stale jokes and unconventional turns to seriousness, the movie still manages to work through the magic of Adam Sandler and the spice of Jack Nicholson’s character.

Anger Management portrays these two guys trying to be the other. Nicholson, whose turn to pure comedy is comparable to Robert DeNiro’s in Meet The Parents, relies strictly on physical humor, his one-of-a-kind pronunciation taking on a different tone while Sandler’s character is quiet and reserved. All of Sandler’s characters in the past have had some sort of rage built within them, whether it was Happy fighting Bob Barker or Bobby Boucher’s therapeutic tackles, and this is exactly what the audience wants to see. Unfortunately, Sandler’s character is disappointingly passive and does not stick up for himself, much like his Barry Egan in Punch-Drunk Love. Sandler wrongfully being put in anger management and harassed by Nicholson slowly brings out the raging psycho we all know and love.

As is typical for a Sandler movie, cameos abound throughout. Kevin Nealon is his lawyer, Woody Harrelson is a female prostitute, John Turturro (The Big Lebowski’s Jesus) throws a few punches, Bobby Knight and Johnny Mac are in therapy, while even Giuliani and Derek Jeter find their way on to the screen. What this movie lacked was a moment of pure, memorable hilarity. I can think time and time again of the hero of comedy screaming “He called the shit poop!” in Billy Madison, “the price is wrong, bitch” as he pummels Bob Barker down the golf hill in Happy Gilmore, and screaming at his girlfriend “that could’ve been brought to my attention YESTERDAY” in The Wedding Singer. For Anger Management, I cannot recall any real superb punch-line that made me laugh so hard it was a struggle to return to breathing correctly. Nicholson carries the film because he’s just so damn good. Sandler is the icon of laughter that our eyes readily follow as we thank God that he abandons his go at acting every so often to do what he does best … kick some Buddhist guy’s ass or to start breaking things with a golf club.

As proof of Nicholson’s performance and Sandler’s track record, we know both can do comedy. As proof of Sandler’s role in Punch-Drunk Love and Nicholson’s track record, we know both can act if they want. The movie is not the tone and one-dimensionality that we pay for when going to see Sandler, and it sure isn’t the evocative masterpiece that we go to see for any of Jack’s films. It doesn’t commit to being piss-your-pants funny and it lightly takes on its serious moments. Maybe Sandler and Nicholson both know that they own the world of movies and wanted to make one together. Regardless of its flaws, Anger Management pins together our generation’s underdog of comedy with our culture’s poster boy of perfected acting. These two guys experiment in techniques and jokes, and while I expected more laughs from these two put together, some of its parts are quacktastic! The star power is impressive and, if you’re like most people I know that love Adam Sandler, you won’t be disappointed with this one.

Archived article by Dan Cohen