starring Adam Sandler, Jack Nicholson, Marisa Tomei, Krista Allen
screenplay by David Dorfman
directed by Peter Segal
by Walter Chaw Packed with SNL alum in secondary roles and directed by Peter Segal, the steady hand behind Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, Adam Sandler's follow-up to the remarkably good Punch-Drunk Love is the remarkably familiar Anger Management. It finds Sandler returning to his old, tedious ways: the athlete cameos, Asian hate, scatological humour, mockery of disability, vintage sing-alongs, sentimental finales, and "you can do its." Good news for the ever-diminishing cult of Sandler, the rest of western civilization should cringe at Jack Nicholson returning to his Corman days by reciting a series of dick and fart jokes while banking to a dangerous degree on his lupine grin. The most frustrating thing about Anger Management isn't that Sandler is back to his old tricks, it's that there are observations embedded here about the state of our culture in decline that exhibit a genuine insight and cynicism that could have made for a fascinating satire rather than this unintentional one.
Running underneath the usual puerility are darker intimations: the mental anguish of war veterans, body dysmorphic disorder, violent undercurrents in pornography, and support group addiction. There seems the possibility that Anger Management has a pulse unrelated to Nicholson's freak show persona--that had Sandler the courage to continue to buck his image he would one day be taken seriously as an artist rather than a peddler of low art to low people. Without a guiding philosophy, however, the picture's richer echoes are just rare moments of spark that, unexamined, manage to be unpleasantly provocative instead of catalysts for thoughtful discussion.
Anger Management is a castration fantasy played out in ways rote and tedious. Music video interludes split time with ridiculous appearances by the overexposed John C. Reilly and the overexposed in a different way Heather Graham. Sandler's films are a great deal like Kevin Smith's films: invitation-only parties peopled entirely by Sandler's cronies and childhood pals who, as his influence grows, become increasingly recognizable. Anger Management is an unapologetic starfuck and a flat in-joke (Kurt Fuller, who played Werner Klemperer in Auto Focus, is referred to as "Col. Klink" in this film) predicated on our familiarity with Sandler's canon and our tolerance for toilet humour and obese cat gags. The worst of it is that in order to facilitate Sandler's milk-fed vision of the controversy-less world of the privileged male, Anger Management concludes with the revelation that the whole thing was, in fact, an elaborate fiction along the lines of Fincher's The Game--a conceit that in this context speaks nothing of cinematic deconstruction and everything of an irredeemable disdain for the intelligence and expectations of its audience. Though there are a handful of laughs, most of them due to Nicholson, know that you deserve better than this, and that the filmmakers don't agree. Originally published: April 11, 2003.