The best thing that can be said about Anger Management is that it’s easily the best Adam Sandler film since Happy Gilmore (no, we didn’t like Punch-Drunk Love or The Wedding Singer). Here, Sandler stars as Dave Buznik, a sad-sack executive assistant wrongly accused of beating up a “flight attendant” mid-flight and subsequently placed into an anger-management program spearheaded by the abrasive Buddy Rydell (a patently insane Jack Nicholson). First-time screenwriter David Dorfman’s flair for the absurd (best line in the film: “I think Eskimos are smug”) is refreshing by the offensive low-standards, racist stereotyping and homophobia on display throughout earlier Sandler flicks like Big Daddy and The Waterboy. Indeed, Dorfman seems to take these familiar archetypes to task (the gay lawyer played by Kevin Nealon and the gay papi played by Luis Guzmán), turning them upside down and suggesting that there’s something buried beneath Sandler’s relationship to these ethnic and gay “others.”
In Big Daddy, director Dennis Dugan casually and inexplicably gives Sandler a gay friend for dubious PC purposes and has two men kiss on screen as if to purposefully incite the film’s target audience to disgust. Dorfman suggests that a character played by Sandler shouldn’t be taken as a gay rights freedom fighter ad hoc. When Rydell makes Buznik play tiddlywinks with a transsexual played by an underwhelming Woody Harrelson, Dorfman forces Sandler to tease out his problems with gays and subsequently free himself of his own issues with sex. More so than Punch Drunk Love, Anger Mangement successfully fashions Sandler’s classic passive aggression as its own modus operandi. Via a series of bizarre encounters with a sad array of supporting players, Sandler’s sanity is repeatedly put to the test. Curiously, Rydell’s goal is not to suppress Buznik’s anger but to unleash it—both the doctor and Rydell’s poet girlfriend (Marisa Tomei) equate the man’s “implosive” personality with his fear of success, which is all over Sandler’s soft-spoken delivery and the character’s constant foot-tapping.
If not consistently funny, Anger Management is still unusually mindful of human behavior for an Adam Sandler vehicle. Not surprisingly, a seemingly clueless Peter Segal is the wrong director to engage Dorfman’s wacky dialogue. Rydell’s ultimate goal is too easily assumed, and as such the film’s final 30 minutes is as predictably dull as Rudy Giuliani’s acting skills. A better director would have either underplayed or seriously exaggerated the ludicrous scenarios that repeatedly test Buznik’s sanity. That these scenarios aren’t random acts of violence makes Anger Management a funny setup to a lame punchline. One can only imagine what the Farrelly Brothers could have done with material like this.