Anger Management
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It's easy to imagine the meetings that took place while Anger Management was in the development stage. "So Adam Sandler will be in a meek mode, sort of like in The Waterboy, but here he's more articulate, and he has this bad run-in on an airline flight with a stewardess who thinks he's being aggressive, but he really isn't. But he's zapped by the security guard with a stun gun, and later he ends up in court, where the judge sentences him to anger management therapy. Now, here's the punch line: his therapist is crazy as a loon. He screams and throws plates of food. He's nuts! And as a condition of the therapy, he even moves in with Sandler! …. So what do you think?" Everyone at the meeting grins and nods. "We can sell that. Yeah. We can sell that…. So who do we get to play the therapist?" Here's where the grins get even wider yet. "We were thinking, maybe, he'd be expensive, but … Jack Nicholson." Imagine Jack: the arched eyebrows, the sparkling eyes, the impish upturned lips ….

Well, this is a movie that sounds great during a sales pitch. And it's easy to imagine Jack Nicholson hearing a quick description of this role and thinking it would be perfect for him. He'd just courted older audiences in About Schmidt, and here he'd switch his target audience to a twenties-ish professional crowd. It's always a good idea to court a younger crowd every once in a while. Just so they don't forget about you.

Unfortunately, however, most of the creative energy in Anger Management went into imagining the general scenario. And that left little energy for the grunt work of filling out the story and the characters. Writer David Dorfman's screenplay turns into simpleminded Hollywood drivel where he supplies oh-so-easy explanations for everything. For example, mild-mannered Dave Buznik (Adam Sandler) has a girlfriend named Linda (Marisa Tomei), whom he loves, but he is too hesitant to ever actually pop the question; so by dealing with the increasingly outrageous antics of Doctor Buddy Rydell (Jack Nicholson), Dave must become more assertive -- and thus, by connection, capable of broaching the marriage issue. This is the kind of gimmicky character development that gives "plots" a bad name. And it all leads to one of the worst endings of any movie in recent memory -- an absolutely dreadful, self-congratulatory exhibition of saccharine emotions.

Surprisingly, writer Dorfman is hot in Hollywood. A bidding war broke out over his script for The Guest, which is now being filmed by David Zucker (of Naked Gun and Airplane! fame) as The Boss's Daughter. And he has now sold projects to several of the biggest studios in Hollywood. So over the next few months/years, we'll get plenty more doses of Dorfman's creative wit. If Anger Management is any indication of what's to come, however, then get ready for dreadfully simplistic plotting that forgoes the characters in favor of manic developments. Nonetheless, it's hard to say just how much of this movie is really Dorfman and how much of his original script was altered by the producers to make room for the love story sub-plot (which becomes THE plot). So maybe it's best to delay the impulse to judge Dorfman by this one movie.

To be fair, at the core of this movie is an attractive concept -- a meek businessman is misinterpreted as being threatening on an airline flight and is assigned by a judge to attend anger management therapy with a therapist who is clearly whacko. This concept does in fact supply many big laughs in the movie's first half, particularly in a therapy session where Luis Guzman and John Turturro play anger-ridden characters who spew vitriol and then receive Doctor Buddy Ryan's loving support. But the concept is incredibly thin. It relies upon one main theme: everything that Dave Buznik (Sandler) says and does is misinterpreted -- first by the flight attendants, then by the judge, then by his fellow therapy patients, etc. The movie repeats this approach ad infinitum. I kept thinking "Is this all there is?" These jokes are funny for the first time or two, but they continue to get recycled over and over -- as Sandler stares stupidly and Nicholson arches his eyebrows impishly. In contrast, John Turturro might very well be the best thing about this movie. His characterization is a marvelously twisted work of selfishness that becomes manifested in machismo and malevolence.

The only surprise that the filmmakers have waiting for us is the lame, gimmicky revelation at the movie's conclusion: instead of relying on our interest in the characters, the movie pulls out a trick that nullifies virtually everything that took place in the entire movie. Unfortunately, however, that's how Hollywood prefers to make movies nowadays. Nothing is real. Nothing really means anything -- except for box receipts. And Anger Management is an easy movie to sell, so there will be plenty of the latter.

[rating: 2 of 4 stars]

Distributor Web site: Columbia Pictures (
Movie Web site: Anger Management



Photo credits: © 2003 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All rights reserved.