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'Anger Management' doesn't get started until Adam Sandler hits someone

By Richard von Busack

ONCE PANTSED, twice shy. Having his drawers pulled down in public when he was 7 installed a lifelong inferiority complex in David Buznick (Adam Sandler). After being falsely accused of air rage on a crowded flight, he's sentenced by a judge to anger management classes. He has the inner fury dug out of him by the machinations of an incredibly obnoxious anger therapist (Jack Nicholson) Buddy. It's a buddy picture; when Buddy moves into David's one-room apartment, we get the Odd Couple all over again.

David Dorfman's script creates no twist on the comedy. The girlfriend (Marisa Tomei) Buddy is so jealous of is supposed to be a poetry teacher, but what does she see in a prosaic guy like David? In the serious parts of the movie, Sandler is stuck in idle; you wait for him to do something funny, and he doesn't: he's being romantic. Director Peter Segal (Nutty Professor II: The Klumps) hangs on Sandler's closed, ominous face, then cuts to the New York skyline as if to say, Hey, this movie may not be happening, but how about that Manhattan, eh? What a town!

Even the women who are supposed to be alluring don't do well, thanks to the ugly, cheap and careless photography common to Sandler's movies. The usually ingratiating Tomei looks anxious. When Sandler takes a road trip, he gets picked up by a blonde who wears Red Sox souvenir underwear and smears brownies all over her face. Watching this girl, I was thinking, who's that actress? She looks like a worn, charmless, low-budget imitation of Heather Graham. And it turns out to be Heather Graham.

From the previews, I had hoped that Nicholson would bring up Sandler to his level. It's the other way around; Sandler drags Nicholson down to his. Looking like the alligator Sandler co-starred with once, Nicholson is caught in a Saturday Night Live sketch that won't end. The reason an actor of the caliber of Nicholson is clowning in a movie with the caliber of Sandler is that celebrities like to be seen, and everyone sees Sandler's comedies. He's a huge draw who draws actors, sports heroes and politicians like a magnet. Even Rudy Giuliani turns up, too, for a mayoral piece of deus ex machina at the end.

When he punches someone out, Sandler is a star. Provoked by angry blacks, uppity women and sexual weirdoes, Sandler keeps his cool, and the core Sandler audience all but shouts, "Punch 'em out, Adam!" When he plays more of a victim, as in Punch-Drunk Love or Little Nicky, they stay away in droves. Anger Management may be a more modest success; Sandler spends too much time in mild mode. Oddly, the highlight is the "if you meet a Buddhist on the road, kill him" sequence, with David confronting the boy who pantsed him once. Now he's grown into an orange-robed monk (John C. Reilly). The movie only comes alive when Sandler's beating someone up.

Anger Management (PG-13; 101 min.), directed by Peter Segal, written by David Dorfman, photographed by Donald McAlpine and starring Jack Nicholson, Adam Sandler and Marisa Tomei, opens Friday at selected theaters.

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Web extra to the April 10-16, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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