Anger Management
starrring Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson
3 stars

Maybe it was crazy for me to hope that Anger Management would be better than it was. It's just an Adam Sandler movie, right? It's just crass goofball comedy, right?

Sure, but it would have been nice to have some *well-structured* crass goofball comedy. Good comedy should follow the rules of good drama, ie. characters get caught in an untenable situation where the tension builds and builds until it's finally released. Sandler's done it before; look to Billy Madison for a well-constructed hilarious dumb comedy classic.

And with Anger Mangement, they almost had it. The trailers seemed to promise it. The pieces seem to line up. First we've got Adam Sandler, known for intense, yelling comic characters in movies like Billy Madison or Happy Gilmore. Those few who saw him in Punch-Drunk Love, though, saw a different kind of character, a guy quietly keeping a lid on rage that finally explodes with a hell of a lot of dramatic impact. Take that character, put him in a comedy, and put him up against somebody trying to drive him nuts. And who better to do that than the most insufferable grinning asshole in the world, Jack Nicholson?

And yet somehow, they seemed to forget the whole point of the exercise, which is that we spend the whole movie watching Sandler having the shit irritated out of him (and being ourselves irritated) in anticipation of that glorious moment when Sandler's head finally explodes and tears Nicholson's wattled flesh to pieces with metaphorical shrapnel. But instead, in the final few moments the movie takes a left turn and stiches on the end of The Wedding Singer. Suddenly the moral of the story becomes "If you're having trouble working up the guts to ask your girlfriend to marry you, maybe a couple of weeks of psychological torture will help." Huh? What about Nicholson's apocalypse? That's what we came here for! But no, they just let him walk away, and without that basic A-to-B, this-is-the-point-of-the-movie backbone, the film just sags.

So, for instance, there's no real logic, or even twisted illogic, to Nicholson's anger therapy techniques. It's not so much "Anger Management" as "Crazy Therapist". Supposedly, Nicholson is trying to get Sandler to quit letting people push him around so much -- at least, that's how it's explained at the end of the movie. So how does Nicholson do this? By forcing Sandler to stop his car in the middle of a bridge to sing "I Feel Pretty" with him as people drive by and yell at them. Or by prodding Sandler into flirting with a strange woman and then hitting on Sandler's girlfriend behind Sandler's back. There's just kind of a loose, flabby quality to the comedy set pieces, without much sense that they're logically building from one to the next.  The movie's three quarters done before we finally get some angry punching fun when Sandler confronts a childhood bully who's now a Buddhist monk.

To be fair, even though it's a jumbled mess, there's still a fair bit of comedy spackle trowelled into the numerous cracks. Sandler's job, for instance, is to design clothes for animals, so we get to see some cats in silly outfits. There's a running gag about a guy with a big cock. Certainly I was happy to meet the two porn actresses in Nicholson's therapy group, was happy to leer along with the other characters as they giggled and flirted and licked each other's fingers. And there's a bunch of little cameos from people like Woody Harrelson, Heather Graham, Luis Guzman and, in one head-shaking inclusion, Rudy Guiliani. Given the fact that they muffed the basic premise of the movie, the film still shows a game willingness to please with whatever junk they could toss in to get a cheap laugh. Which I guess is what I should have expected all along.