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Anger Management

How bad is Anger Management (A.M.), the new movie starring Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson? It's so bad that if you added up all the badness from Sandler's earlier movies (Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, Big Daddy, etc.), it still wouldn't equal the astronomical amount of badness in A.M. You know how some people say they'd watch Jack Nicholson read the phone book? I would much rather see that than watch A.M. again. Anger Management is so bad that Gong Show impresario Chuck Barris would've gonged it out after ten minutes. It's so bad that Different Strokes child actor Gary Coleman would've been embarrassed to be in it. It's so bad that I'm forced to discuss tv shows from my childhood to find some point of reference.

Speaking of old tv shows, the movie opens on what appears to be Sesame Street. Several hundred people of different races and creeds are hanging out on a summer's day. It's 1978, and sixth-grader David Buznick is fantasizing about Sara, the cute, little blonde girl who lives across the street. Lo and behold, she comes up to him and immediately challenges him to a game of Truth or Dare. No matter that there are literally hundreds of people standing around; she wants to play Truth or Dare with him. He makes the mistake of choosing Dare, but her Dare is to kiss her. Things are looking up for Dave. As he's about to realize his prepubescent fantasy, the local bully pulls down both Dave's shorts and his underpants. There he stands in the middle of the street, totally mortified. All 428 people around him turn and stare, then point, then laugh at the size of Dave's penis. I am not making this up.

Skip ahead 25 years. The older Dave Buznick (Sandler) of course has a phobia about kissing in public. You don't have to be a psychic to know that Dave will need to confront this fear at the movie's climax--which takes place in the middle of Yankee Stadium, in what has to be the most excruciating fifteen minutes of cinema I've seen this year. But I'm getting ahead of myself; we have so much other badness to cover.

Besides Dave's hang-up, he's a great guy. He lets other people push him around a bit, but he works hard, loves his girlfriend (played by the always game Marisa Tomei), and worships the Yankees. Ok, two out of three ain't bad. But on a flight to L.A., the flight attendant refuses to get Dave some headphones so that he can watch the movie. Dave taps her on the arm, and she turns on him, accusing Dave of accosting her. A burly security guard comes over and starts to berate him. "This is a very difficult time for our country," the guard states, in what is the movie's only clever line, before arresting Dave and throwing him off the plane. At the court date, Dave is sentenced to twenty hours of anger management therapy. His therapist is Dr. Buddy Rydell (Nicholson), who looks like he could use some detox therapy of his own.

Dr. Buddy's group therapy session is filled with a whole cast of characters: the over-the-top rageaholic (John Turturro), the over-the-top pair of female porn stars (I'd offer their names, but their measurements would be more appropriate), and the over-the-top homosexual (Luis Guzman). It is not to the movie's credit that Guzman's flaming portrayal is topped by an even more outrageous turn from a transvestite prostitute played by Woody Harrelson. When Turturro's character and Dave are paired as "anger allies," we know that badness is around the corner. Sure enough, a bar fight ensues, and Dave is back in court. This time, his sentence is for Dr. Rydell to move into his apartment for 30 days for some intensive anger management.

I'm certain I don't need to tell you that Buddy and Dave are soon sharing a bed, that Buddy farts constantly, that the two don't enjoy the same food, and that Buddy's primary goal is to humiliate Dave in as many public situations as possible. What might surprise you is that Dr. Rydell is also trying to put the moves on Dave's girlfriend. But that shouldn't be so surprising, as it allows Adam Sandler a chance to replicate his favorite cinematic moment--the one where he suddenly flies into a rage, charges at the nearest human being, and does his best imitation of an NFL linebacker. Adam Sandler is an auteur.

I am only slightly embarrassed to admit that at this point I started hoping to see more of the porn star duo. I realize that that's a crass and unbecoming sentiment, but it's true. The horror of what was taking place on screen beat the good part of my brain into total submission. I was on the verge of needing some serious anger management.

But nothing that comes before can prepare you for the Yankee Stadium experience. Let's just say that Rudy Giuliani should never be allowed to act again. He should certainly not be allowed to lead 40,000 people in a cheer...a cheer that encourages Dave to kiss his girlfriend...in public. That sounds sweet, you say? Not if it goes on for ten minutes and includes David Buznick baring his soul. That's something no sentient being should ever have to see. That millions will actually *pay* to see it this weekend depresses me more than I can say.   

by J. Robert Parks  4/9/2003

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