I've never had much use for Nicholson. As a curiosity I suppose he's all right, but as an actor I've never really found him all that interesting. Sue me. Jack the mack just hasn't ever done it for me. Rather, it is his public life that has always been the most entertaining. In recent years that public face has nearly become a wacky parody of the man himself, striding across award stages sporting sunglasses and ridiculous berets in some weird attempt to stay relevant. So then, it is only appropriate that he take his comedic public manifestation into the world of flat out comedy. For starters, he’s pulling weird comedic punches against one of the genre's most successful funnymen, Adam Sandler in Anger Management.
Like a bad 80's sitcom in which some average Joe wisecracker is given a court appointed butler, Anger Management lands Dave (Adam Sandler) in a most unconventional form of intensive anger management therapy. Unfortunately for him, it is his therapist that has the real problem, and Dave Buznik is left living with a madman intent on using court ordered healing as a means to destroy his life.
Anger director Peter Segal must have had a lot of confidence in Jack's hardcore comic abilities, since it is Sandler, not he who plays the straight man. Far from his usual quirkily dramatic roots, his role in Anger Management is the type of comedic madness we'd expect from someone like Bill Murray. In fact, Jack's Doctor Rydell character comes off as a more violent shade of Bob Wiley, Murray's hypochondriac nutcase in What About Bob. Sandler on the other hand, in some ways picks up right where he left off in Punch-Drunk Love, playing yet another passive-aggressive character dealing with pent-up rage in the worst ways possible. In this case he does so without any of the subtleties that made his performance as Barry Eagan such a high-note, substituting pretty bland duty as a comedically bored foil for Jack's hilarious madness.
If you've seen the trailer, you've already seen some of the movie's most laugh-getting scenes. Those bits alone might have given Anger Management the luxury to simply coast. But Management keeps right on giving gifts of the bizarre as Dave drifts deeper and deeper into a world of troubles with his mentally deranged shrink and the law. Rydell turns Dave's life totally upside-down and the solid chemistry between the pair makes this an easy sell, even when the last 15 minutes unravel with ridiculously corny loose ends and a poorly chosen ending that renders the rest of the film irrelevant.
I'm sure the usual crowd of Sandler haters is already gathering outside the theater to throw jabs at anyone who finds his humor funny. I on the other hand find it impossible to believe that even the most die-hard Sandler naysayer won't something funny in Sandler and Nicholson dueting selections from West Side Story. Anger Management is almost consistently hilarious. When it isn't hilarious it's funny and when it isn't funny it gets a little bit confused... but those moments are easily forgotten in between the better laughs.
Jack brings an incredible level of energy and humor to his role. Sandler is a credible straight man, even if he seems a bit tired with his sad sack part. Marisa Tomei is as usual, wasted, but that's become her M.O., taking roles that would normally filled by any random, vapid actress and pretending there's something special about it. A few wacky cameos from Woody Harrelson in drag, John C. Reilly as a monk, and Bobby Knight in intensive therapy spice things up further.
Anger Management is what happens when truly gifted performers get together and really click. As Jack ages into a mildly psychotic, sunglasses wearing Sasquatch; its nice to know that he doesn't mind if we laugh.