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"ANGER MANAGEMENT"
(2003) (Adam Sandler, Jack Nicholson) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: A mild-mannered man finds his life turned upside down and his mood increasingly volatile when he's sentenced to work with an unorthodox anger management specialist.
PLOT:
Dave Buznik (ADAM SANDLER) is a mild-mannered executive assistant at a pet products company who lets his boss, Frank Head (KURT FULLER), take credit for his work, has a problem showing public affection for his girlfriend, Linda (MARISA TOMEI), and won't stand up to her former boyfriend, Andrew (ALLEN COVERT), who keeps hitting on her.

Thus, he's shocked when he's charged for assaulting a flight attendant during an airline trip where he allegedly lost control of his temper. Accordingly, and despite the efforts of Dave's lawyer, Sam (KEVIN NEALON), Judge Daniels (LYNEE THIGPEN) sentences him to twenty-hours of sessions with anger management therapist Dr. Buddy Rydell (JACK NICHOLSON).

At a group gathering, Dave meets Buddy's other patients including Lou (LUIS GUZMAN), Chuck (JOHN TURTURRO) and porn stars Stacy (KRISTA ALLEN) and Gina (JANUARY JONES). When Chuck gets Dave involved in a barroom brawl, Judge Daniels wants to sentence Dave to a year in prison, but Buddy intervenes and moves in with him for 30 days of intensive therapy.

From that point on, and as Buddy makes Dave go through a series of unorthodox therapeutic sessions, including an encounter with a "she-male," Galaxia (WOODY HARRELSON), the formerly mild-mannered man becomes increasingly irritated and angry as his entire life is turned upside down.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
When it comes to making movies, the job of the casting director is rather self-explanatory. In short, they seek out the best performers for the various parts, hoping that those chosen fit the bill in portraying the sort of characters the filmmakers intended.

In that case, Roger Mussenden should get an A for his work in casting the comedy "Anger Management." In it, a mild-mannered and otherwise soft-spoken man gets progressively angrier when he's unjustly forced into the care of an unorthodox anger management therapist.

Since he's always played characters prone to sudden outbursts of rage, Adam Sandler ("Mr. Deeds," "Punch Drunk Love") would seem the perfect fit to play the patient, while the often unpredictable, disheveled and devil-may-care persona of Jack Nicholson ("About Schmidt," "As Good as it Gets") would work well for the doctor.

Mussenden scored both actors, as well as the likes of Marisa Tomei ("The Guru," "Someone Like You"), John Turturro ("Mr. Deeds," "Collateral Damage"), Woody Harrelson ("Play it to the Bone," "EDtv"), Luis Guzman ("Confidence," "The Adventures of Pluto Nash"), Heather Graham ("The Guru," "From Hell"), John C. Reilly ("Chicago," "Gangs of New York") and others for this often funny and generally enjoyable effort.

Director Peter Segal ("Nutty Professor II: The Klumps," "My Fellow Americans"), who works from a script by newcomer David Dorfman, plays everything quite broadly, often sporadically, and not always realistically, but a late in the game revelation explains some of that away. Dorfman's script plays off the old standard of an ordinary man getting caught in a situation that gets out of hand and progressively worsens from a comedic standpoint.

It's with the script's fine details and individual lines of dialogue, however, that the film is the most pleasing. For instance, the protagonist's line of work is in creating designer clothing fashions for obese felines, complete with silly visual samples. In addition, those famous for losing their patience in real life poke fun of their reputations by appearing as themselves as current anger management patients.

That said, this isn't high-brow comedy by any means - there are plenty of jokes about crude humor, she-males and genital size - but the effort offers enough laughs on varying levels to make it an enjoyable diversion despite its flaws that include an episodic feel and lack of comedic tightness.

What really makes it work, though, is the presence of and performance by Nicholson, which is usually the case in most any film in which he appears. With those eyebrows, devilish grin, wild eyes and unruly mane and beard, he's a sight to see and those visuals work well in enhancing his unpredictable and often quite funny character. While it's certainly not his best work ever, it's always a pleasure watching the veteran ply his trade and he clearly seems to be having a blast playing the part.

Sandler plays his character somewhere between his role in "Punch Drunk Love" and most any other one he's embodied in the past. The film starts off - in flashback - with a telltale scene that reeks of the actor's worst films and made me worry that despite Nicholson's presence, this was going to be another one of them.

Thankfully, that's not the case, even if things never get terribly sophisticated or imaginative. In general, that means if you've enjoyed Sandler's work in the past, you'll probably like what he does here. That said, you have to admit that so far he hasn't demonstrated a great deal of range since he always plays the same sort of character (which has yet to hamper his star status or huge salary).

While Tomei isn't tasked much by her standard girlfriend role, other supporting performances are more effective and/or funnier. Harrelson plays a German she-male, while Guzman does the gay Latino bit. Turturro goes full bore into angry paranoia, while Riley plays a reformed bully and current monk. Coupled with some funny dialogue, they decently complement the main plot.

The biggest complaints about the film are the tidy, but unnecessary and disappointing conclusion; the waning and/or failure of some comedic material in the second half; the broad strokes by which everything is played; and the lack of enough earlier material paying off later on for greater comedic effect. Those aren't completely debilitating flaws from an individual or even collective standpoint, but they do prevent the film from being as good as it might have been with a little more finesse and/or imagination.

While nothing special, let alone classic, the film offers enough amusing, funny and occasionally hilarious moments and performances to earn a passing grade. "Anger Management" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.




Reviewed April 7, 2003 / Posted April 11, 2003


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