Is Anger Management an Adam Sandler love letter to current-day New York? It contains a Yankees' game, a cameo by Rudy Giuliani and several references to our country "going through a hard time" these days. And it's about being able to let go of inner anger in order to look forward to the future. Could this movie be Sandler's version of Spike Lee's 25th Hour?
No, that would be giving it too much credit. Anger Management is simply a comedy with a loose premise that allows room for what the filmmakers hoped would be fireworks between its two unlikely co-stars: Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson. Sadly, for the large part, the movie wastes this potential. The best way to handle such a pairing of well-known personalities would have been to let these two just go at each other, no holds barred. With Sandler and Nicholson, it could have been great. Sandler's characters always have the pattern of going from put-upon loser to enraged hero-of-the-average-Joe, and Nicholson is so good at being stubbornly cocky.
These familiar characters are allowed to establish themselves, but then they don't go anywhere. Sandler strangely plays a far more repressed version of his usual personality, and that's where the main fault lies. We get a lot of build-up with Nicholson screwing over Sandler again and again, so naturally we expect some kind of comeuppance-filled climax. But the movie is trying to play nice -- it wants us also to like Nicholson in some twisted way, so we end up with a rather smiley resolution when all is said and done. Sandler does get to body-tackle Nicholson, but it comes a little too early and doesn't carry with it the catharsis such a scene should have provided.
In the meantime, we're given a weird plot upon which to hang many self-contained gag scenes, so the whole flow of the movie feels random. For some reason, Sandler's character keeps being misunderstood to the point where Nicholson's anger management guru feels he's a special case that requires the fullest attention. From there on, the movie is a line-up of goofy scenarios -- some work, others don't. Having the two leads hold up traffic on a bridge to sing "I Feel Pretty" may seem funny to some viewers, but I thought the confrontation with an ex-bully-turned-Buddhist monk was more amusing. I also liked the numerous cameos, from John C. Reilly to Heather Graham giving a wink to her part in Swingers.
Unfortunately, none of the scenes mentioned above can save the movie from a lame wrap-up. The ending tries to present an explanation for the nonsensical events that have happened to Sandler's character, but it's weak -- and not surprisingly so, given the flimsy feel of the rest of the movie. Nothing in the film comes close to the glorious potential its poster teases us with, featuring Sandler and Nicholson, forehead to forehead, screaming at each other.
(Released by Columbia Pictures and rated "PG-13" for crude sexual content and language.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.