Jack Nicholson has lately been telling anyone who'll listen that the secret to career longevity is not to take the money and rerun past performances. As Doctor Buddy Rydell, the mad psychologist of Anger Management, Jack comes dangerously close to breaking his own rule. Encouraged by a tailor-made script, Nicholson recalls some of his most unleashed roles, chewing scenery with the wild abandon of a man who's been holding it in too long (in About Schmidt, Nicholson consciously emulated stone-faced Buster Keaton). Nicholson, in any venue, consistently proves he belongs in the pantheon of all-time film stars, and full-blown "Jack"--his face a spectacular special effect of wriggling energy--remains an irresistible act.
Technically, Anger Management is an "Adam Sandler movie," and by virtue of Nicholson's presence, it's leaps and bounds above anything else Sandler has done (the exception, Punch-Drunk Love, was less a pre-packaged Sandler vehicle than an auteur film by P.T. Anderson). Anger Management director Peter Segal is no auteur, and screenwriter David Dorfman hardly steers clear of Sandler's trademark man-boy juvenalia (the film opens with wedgies and pantsings and proceeds to gags about penis size, messy defecation, and rabid, oversexed women). Still, the film is mostly clever enough to devour its cake and have it, too, back-pedalling to excuse its own unreal childishness through misdirection.
Here, Sandler capitalizes on the persona he's built up over the years, as well as the clout, drawing another shocking roster of major players to support him. Sandler plays Dave Buznik, a sad sack with so-called "toxic anger syndrome" eating him up from the inside. After an well-choreographed incident on an airplane, the passive-aggressive Buznik winds up sentenced to Buddy Rydell's support-group program. The group provides a skeleton for a series of over-the-top jokes involving its lesbian porn-star couple, Luis Guzman as a gay rageaholic, and John Turturro (back for more after Mr. Deeds) as Buznik's hair-trigger "anger ally" Chuck.
When Buznik's problems only escalate, Rydell decides to shadow his problem patient full-time. Moving into Buznik's apartment, Rydell dubs it the "lair of the rage rhino," claims more than half of the bed, and--like Robert in Five Easy Pieces--demands breakfast his way. More often, Nicholson recalls the Devil in The Witches of Eastwick, alternating velvet swagger, super-avuncular glee, and eye-narrowing menace. Under Rydell's weight, Buznik's job--designing slimming clothes for literal fat cats--and love life with the inordinately understanding Linda (Marisa Tomei) threaten to collapse. Woody Harrelson, Heather Graham, and John C. Reilly also each get an extended, unfortunately puerile scene of mayhem with Sandler and Nicholson, and the stream of cameo performers includes a full-complement of athletes and celebrities.
A preferably underplayed Sandler, as in Punch-Drunk Love, gets the job done (even selling his romantic payoff), but it all comes down to the trickster Jack-al. Where Robert De Niro embarrassed himself by singing "I Feel Pretty" in Analyze That, Nicholson acquits himself doing the same in Anger Management. The man with the Midas touch makes this savvy pop movie--which dutifully plays out its requisite modern-comedy beats--into surprisingly watchable entertainment.
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