It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
The concept is inspired. The execution is lame. "Anger Management," a film that might have been one of Adam Sandler's best, becomes one of Jack Nicholson's worst. Because Nicholson has a superb track record and a sure nose for trash, it's obvious the movie was a Sandler project with Nicholson as hired talent, not the other way around. The fact that four of the producers were involved in "Master of Disguise" and three with "The Animal" indicates that quality-control was not an issue.
Everything about the way the movie goes wrong--the dumbing-down of plot developments, the fascination with Sandler's whiny one-note character, the celebrity cameos, the cringing sentimentality--indicates a product from the Sandler assembly line. No doubt Sandler's regular fans will love this movie, which is a return to form after the brilliant "Punch Drunk Love." Nicholson's fans will be appalled.
And yet there might really have been something here. When I heard the premise, I began to smile. Sandler plays a mild-mannered guy named Dave Buznik, who just got a promotion at work and is in love with his fiancee, Linda (Marisa Tomei). Through a series of bizarre misunderstandings on an airplane trip, he is misdiagnosed as a person filled with rage, and assigned to therapy with the famed anger specialist Dr. Buddy Rydell ( Nicholson).
Nicholson's early scenes are his best, because he brings an intrinsic interest to every character he plays, and we don't yet know how bad the movie is. He wears a beard making him look like a cross between Stanley Kubrick and Lenin, and works his eyebrows and sardonic grin with the zeal of a man who was denied them during the making of "About Schmidt." He introduces Dave to a therapy group including the first of many guest stars in the movie, Luis Guzman and John Turturro. Both are clearly nuts--and so is Dr. Rydell, as Dave finds himself trapped in an escalating spiral of trouble, climaxing in a bar fight and a court appearance where he explains, "I was being attacked by someone while stealing a blind man's cane." The blind man is played by Harry Dean Stanton. Also on display in the movie are Woody Harrelson (as a drag queen), John C. Reilly (as a Buddhist monk who gets a wedgie), Heather Graham, former NYC Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and (ho, ho) the angry Bobby Knight. The use of celebrity walk-ons in a movie is often the sign of desperation, but rarely does one take over the movie and drive it to utter ruin, as Giuliani's role does. The closing scenes in Yankee Stadium, with the hero proposing to his girl over a loud speaker, passed into the realm of exhausted cliche before Sandler was born. Most good comedy has an undercurrent of truth. The genius of "Punch Drunk Love" was that it identified and dealt with the buried rage that does indeed seem to exist in most of Sandler's characters. The falsity of "Anger Management" is based on the premise that Dave Buznik is not angry enough--that he needs to act out more, and assert himself. That provides the explanation for the plot's "surprise," which will come as old news to most audiences.