Managing to Tolerate Adam

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Jack Nicholson and Adam Sandler

You feel it percolating in your gut as the guy behind the deli counter serves someone who has waited less time than you. It rises to form a knot of bile as you scamper after a bus that left 10 seconds too soon. It chokes you as your boss — say, an editor at the magazine you've slaved at for years — cuts your perfect movie review in half, adds lame jokes...and then, to compound the injury, sends you out to get her coffee, at that same rotten deli.

Desperate men need desperate entertainment: an Adam Sandler movie.

In Anger Management, written by David Dorfman and directed by Peter Segal, Dave Buznik (Sandler) is a mouse afraid to roar. Traumatized by a childhood depantsing episode, he is reluctant to kiss his girl (Marisa Tomei), sass his boss or speak up for himself in tones above a whisper. Dave needs fate, or a series of preposterous plot machinations, to effect his deliverance. He is put into the care of a radical therapist, Dr. Buddy Rydell (Jack Nicholson).

Pause here for a brief head swivel. Jack Nicholson in an Adam Sandler comedy? That's right. Nicholson is here to bring a touch of Mephistophelian class to the standard Sandler paranoid-fantasy recipe. Dr. Buddy moves into Dave's apartment and bed, dates his girlfriend and — all right, this is inspired — forces Dave to sing I Feel Pretty while parked on a city bridge at rush hour.

Every Sandler movie is a course in anger management: in the care and feeding of rage, first suppressed, then geysering into an explosion of smashed crockery and punched-out supporting players. All the ingenuity goes into justifying sociopathic behavior — for example, how can Sandler beat the pacifism out of a Buddhist monk and keep the audience's sympathy? It's classically infantile comedy, ending in a payoff so corny it would have made Frank Capra wince. (This time Sandler has all of Yankee Stadium as his theater of catharsis, with Rudy Giuliani cheering him on.)

Sandler may see Anger Managementas a step in the maturing of his movie image: penis envy has replaced peeing as a running gag. He also surrounds himself with a high breed of stooge (John C. Reilly, Woody Harrelson, Heather Graham). And even a longtime Adamophobe has to admit that Sandler is an agreeable presence here, and that the film has some funny filigree work to offset the oppressive schematics. It should make audiences happy. But then so did most of his earlier movies, and they were lame, gnat-brained pieces of demagogic doo-doo!

There. I feel better.