The Good: Moments of humor, Generally good performances
The Bad: Agonizing tone, Predictable plot, Irksome character development
The Basics: When Dave Buznik is sentenced to 20 hours of anger management therapy, he ends up getting more than he bargained for when noted author and expert Dr. Buddy Rydell antagonizes him.
There are a number of movies that came and went in their theatrical run that I had absolutely no interest in watching that I now find myself catching thanks to my wife. Pretty much any film featuring Adam Sandler falls into that category; my wife is a fan and I’m not a huge fan – though there are some that I have enjoyed. Despite the presence of Jack Nicholson in it, I never had the urge to watch the Adam Sandler film Anger Management. That avoidance ended last night when my wife and mother-in-law were in the mood to watch Anger Management and I was in the mood to hang out with them.
The thing is, I don’t recall what I knew about Anger Management going into it, but from the outset the movie set me off because the protagonist seemed woefully misdiagnosed with anger issues. Adam Sandler is possibly the ultimate actor for portraying seething rage beneath a good-guy persona. He did it masterfully in Punch-Drunk Love (reviewed here!), so Sandler has abilities. For sure, there are many different ways people who have anger under the surface might act, but in Anger Management, Sandler’s character of Dave Buznik exhibits no recognizable traits of someone who is truly angry and struggles to deal with that. Instead, in Anger Management, Dave is constantly provoked and he is surrounded by angry people who overact to his calm rejections of their behavior.
Dave Buznik has been dating Linda for years and he remains too timid to commit to her, despite the fact that she pals around with Andrew, an ex who shows no respect for her relationship with Dave. Dave has a great idea that his boss takes credit for. That leads to Dave traveling for his boss and on the plane, he moves seats to sit next to Dr. Buddy Rydell. In asking for headphones, Dave is forced to wait and when he gently puts his hand on the stewardess’s elbow, the plane lands and he is charged with assault. He is sentenced to twenty hours of anger management therapy . . . with Dr. Rydell.
Rydell begins almost immediately making offers to Dave and then betraying him. Dave’s sentence is expanded to forty hours and the group sessions Dave attends include the legitimately violent Chuck, a porn star couple, and a guy who is far long in Rydell’s program, Lou. Traveling together, Dave and Rydell go through a number of exercises, like Rydell having Dave pick up a woman at a bar, then telling Linda about it. Rydell has Dave confront his childhood tormenter and then starts dating Linda himself. In the process of Rydell agitating Dave, Dave comes to stand up for himself and his relationship with Linda.
Anger Management is unpleasant to watch because almost immediately, the viewer has the sense that Dave is being played. Watching a generally nice guy get railroaded by an erratic manipulator is not my idea of entertaining. As a result of the transparent way that Rydell works Dave, the “surprise” twist near the end is more obvious than audacious. Anger Management telegraphs itself and it is frustrating to watch a film where the protagonist is so far behind the curve.
That said, Anger Management has an impressive cast that is utilized remarkably well . . . outside Sandler. Sandler’s Dave is not written to be particularly angry, clever or distinct and that leaves Sandler with remarkably little to play. Anger Management does not give Adam Sandler one of his interesting or quirky characters to play and the result is that much of the movie has the viewer watching an indistinct tool.
The rest of the cast of Anger Management is impressively utilized. Jack Nicholson plays Dr. Rydell with an energetic quality that borders on the sadistic and makes the role instantly credible. Nicholson gets through the psychobabble with a brilliant straight face and when his character turns toward the charming and erratic, he lends some continuity to the performance that makes it seem like it is the same character going through everything. Nicholson has amazing facial acting and director Peter Segal captures that wonderfully. The supplemental cast of Marisa Tomei, Luiz Guzman, Kurt Fuller, Woody Harrelson, John Turturro, Heather Graham and John C. Riley flesh out the world around Dave and Rydell to keep Sandler playing off an intriguing number of other talents.
Unfortunately, the humor in Anger Management is slapstick and not at all shocking. Telegraphed well in advance, much of the film has mediocre jokes broke up by long stretches of Rydell antagonizing Dave. Anger Management is like watching torment on film and for as much as Dave is tormented, so is the viewer.
For other works with January Jones, please visit my reviews of:
X-Men: First Class
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© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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