The best I can say about Adam Sandler's films is that I don't hate them. Unlike many of his detractors, I find his humor dull rather than obnoxious. But I do have one pet peeve regarding his habit of stealing jokes from recent films then executing them poorly. A case in point: I found the 2000 Farrelly Brothers comedy "Me, Myself, and Irene" forgettable overall, but it did feature an amusingly irreverent scene in which an African-American dwarf limo driver (Tony Cox, who has made a career out of playing characters like this) goes berserk after a white character played by Jim Carrey offhandedly uses the phrase "you people" (in reference to limo drivers, not blacks). Nobody handles material of that sort better than the Farrelly Brothers, and what makes the scene even funnier is that the entire plot hinges on those words carelessly escaping Carrey's lips. This event causes a chain reaction leading to an affair, a divorce, and finally a mental breakdown.
The opening scene of "Anger Management" features the same joke. Sandler's character utters the phrase "you people" in front of a black air marshal, who becomes enraged and zaps Sandler with a taser. The joke here is not in any way pivotal to the plot. It's just thrown redundantly into a sequence in which Sandler is accosted by the airplane crew, who misinterpret his behavior as disruptive.
Nevertheless, "Anger Management" represents a transition in Sandler's career. He attempts to tone down his persona of the immature man prone to violent outbursts. His character in this film, Dave Buznik, is much more normal and likable than the typical Sandler character. But that's what makes the premise so ironic: "Anger Management" is probably the first film in which Sandler plays a guy who doesn't need anger management. So what is Buznik doing being put in such a program? The way he's treated at the beginning on the airplane is inexplicable. It's like a comedy version of Kafka's "The Trial," where a guy is arrested and sentenced for no apparent reason. He acts perfectly sensible most of the time, and it's the world that's turned against him.
Sandler does ultimately resort to some of his traditional antics later in the film, like his run-in with an old bully in a sequence that manages to take potshots at both religion and fat people, reminding me once again how much better the Farrelly Brothers are at handling political incorrectness. But Buznik acts this way only because Jack Nicholson's character provokes, manipulates, and blackmails him. In fact, we begin to realize that Nicholson's purpose isn't to help Buznik control his anger, but quite the opposite--to make him stop holding in his emotions and start being more assertive. The program to which Buznik has been sentenced isn't so much anger management as nebbish management.
Although Sandler's jokes are as lame as usual, I did enjoy seeing Nicholson here, probably because he appears to be enjoying himself so much. Of all the celebrated American actors, Nicholson may be the one who looks the most comfortable in a comedy. After all, he has long infused his serious parts with a comic touch. I can't imagine any other actor successfully pulling off a character like Dr. Rydell, a hairy, snorty man, the kind of guy who laughs loudly at his own jokes and will talk for hours when everyone is dying to tell him to shut up but is too intimidated to say anything. Amazingly, Nicholson exudes these traits without losing his usual demented charm. He has a fingernails-on-the-blackboard effect only on Buznik, not on the audience.
If Nicholson's role doesn't work as well as Robert De Niro's overbearing CIA agent in "Meet the Parents," that can be blamed on the script, which lacks the focus to tell a real story. It seems to structure itself less like a comedy than like a thriller, with continual shifts in the plot as we are asked to ponder Dr. Rydell's true motives. But it's a bluff: the plot twists are just a cheap way of distracting us from the story's lack of content. The final revelation seems too labored for such lightweight material, and only calls attention to the shapeless quality of the earlier scenes.
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