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ISSUE 116 VOL 17 PUBLISHED 4/18/2003

Critic’s Corner: Sandler can’t “Manage” to please audiences

By Molly Bayrd
Arts Editor

Friday, April 18, 2003

Adam Sandler has all of his bases covered. No film he makes from this point on in his career can be as unequivocally terrible as “Little Nicky” or as profoundly awful as “The Waterboy.” That said, his most recent endeavor, “Anger Management,” though not his worst picture, is certainly not his best.

In “Management,” Sandler plays the unhealthily apathetic Dave Buznik, a man whose unresolved childhood confrontations and indecisive behaviors have left him the target of his abusive boss’s incessant scapegoating, and have severely impeded the progress of his relationship with Linda, a kindhearted poet.

Dave’s infallible passivity comes to a head when a misunderstanding with a flight attendant lands him in court, where he is sentenced to 20 hours of anger management therapy with the unorthodox psychologist Buddy Rydell (played by Jack Nicholson). Dave approaches his anger management treatment with cynicism, and his un-remedied inability to express his anger soon lands him in more trouble – and with an extended commitment to Dr. Rydell’s questionable “full immersion” tactics.

Rydell’s “full immersion” session begins when he moves into Dave’s apartment and proceeds to spend every waking moment with a visibly embarrassed Dave. Between breaking plates, yelling and forcing Dave to use the phrase “exploding in my pants” during an experimental bar “pick-up,” Rydell’s unconventional therapy begins to have a positive impact on his patient’s sedate facade. The rest, as they say, is history.

Though Sandler appears more laid-back and slightly more serious than he has in previous films (not including the 2002 drama “Punch Drunk Love”), it is Nicholson, unsurprisingly, who carries “Management.” His facial expressions and delivery are unexpectedly hilarious, even during seemingly banal lines such as, “Your temper is the one thing you can’t get rid of by losing it.” The entire movie is saturated with Nicholson’s theatrical genius.

Marisa Tomei, who plays the sweet and patient Linda, is overqualified for the part. With her short but impressive résumé (including “My Cousin Vinny” and “In the Bedroom”), she seems somewhat out of place among the rest of the conventionally comedic cast. Her underdeveloped character, along with a slew of ineffective cameos (only those appearances by Bobby Knight and John McEnroe elicited laughter from the audience), is one of the primary reasons why “Management” falls short of the mark.

Furthermore, the film relies too heavily upon cliché, been-there-done-that material (Dave proposes to Linda using the scoreboard at a Yankees game). The pair’s romance is so inundated with sentimentality that it overshadows several darker, more comical motifs.

John Turturro, as Dave’s group therapy “anger ally,” is severely underused; those who have seen “The Big Lebowski” know that Turturro, though sometimes frightening, is capable of handling comedy with curious finesse.

With the promising combination of the audience-beloved Sandler and the accomplished Nicholson, one would expect that “Management” would deliver far more laughs than it actually does. Seeing the two actors sing the “West Side Story” ballad “I Feel Pretty” is one duet that viewers will appreciate, but there are ultimately too few laughs in “Anger Management” to sustain any substantial audience appreciation.

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