Impressive chemistry fuels ‘Anger’

Paul Benedict

Suffering through the spring movie season is almost the equivalent of waiting for that period in between your birthday and Christmas when you’re just desperate for money. That said, April is the equivalent to Thanksgiving; April usually offers some decent fare with a hint of “summer-blockbuster” in there, while Thanksgiving usually offers a small amount of gift money, though nothing compared to the bundles of checks and $100 bills you hope to inherit come Christmas. Past Aprils have offered audiences such mediocre productions like “Lost in Space” (1998), “Rules of Engagement” (2000), and “The Scorpio King” (2002) – all essentially borderline big-budget productions that were put out in April to avoid the onslaught of major blockbuster releases in May. Such is the case this year with Adam Sandler’s latest, “Anger Management,” a movie pushed up from its original summer release date to help steer clear of what might be the most profitable summer in box office history.

My initial thoughts were that this would simply be any old Adam Sandler flick, but with an interesting catch: the presence of Jack Nicholson. Now, I’m not one to be first in line for Sandler’s movies, in fact, I actually skipped his last two, “Mr. Deeds” and “Little Nicky,” but like any other human being under the age of 25, I certainly place “Billy Madison” and “Happy Gilmore” on a pedestal amongst the best ’90s comedies. For that matter, “The Waterboy” and “The Wedding Singer” aren’t too far behind. When I discovered Jack Nicholson would be starring alongside Sandler in one of his typical comedies, I have to admit I was excited about it. Nicholson easily boasts one of the most eccentric and likeable personalities both on and off screen, and I was hoping that the pair would form a hilarious combo. While my expectations may not have been met to the highest degree, I certainly didn’t walk away from “Anger Management” disappointed.

While “Anger Management” does resemble other Sandler projects, the movie that often came to mind while watching was “Analyze This.” Most of the humor from each film encompasses the ups and downs of an outlandishly unconventional doctor/patient relationship, while also blending in a customary romance and a convenient happy ending. However, the two films have one flaw that they share in common: the feeling that when the movie is over, one cannot help but think that there was something missing, that they should have been even funnier.

So much more could have been made of amusing situations. For example, amongst the supporting characters who were members of Dave Buznik’s (Sandler) anger management group, the funniest was easily the angry sports fan, who coincidentally, happened to be from Philadelphia (we all know it’s true). However, there was just one moment in the film when they utilized the fan to garner a laugh. Instead, they gave the majority of the supporting laughs to Lou, the angry gay man (Luis Guzman) and Chuck, the angry military man (John Turturro) who despite fine performances just weren’t quite worthy of as much screen time as they were given. Luckily, Sandler and Nicholson did a credible job in feeding off each other for laughs, as the screen was rarely dry when they were on it. As the movie played out, the scenes between Sandler and Nicholson became funnier; it’s not often you find plausible character development in an Adam Sandler flick, but believe it or not, the closer the two characters became to one another, the more abundant the laughs were.

While “Anger Management” isn’t a classic, it was a breath of fresh air in what has been an awful start for movies in 2003. With the slate of summer flicks quickly forthcoming, I have to admit that we should be fortunate to have “Anger Management” pushed up to April and separated from the blockbusters we know we’re all going to end up seeing; perhaps “Anger Management” would have been lost amongst the muck of superhero and action extravaganzas. Instead, it helped me forgive the studios for releasing garbage like “Kangaroo Jack” and “Daredevil.”