There was something delightful about Adam Sandler's first two movies. Proudly goofy and delightfully stupid, they still managed some great bits and Sandler threw himself into every routine with the kind of energy he showed on Saturday Night Live. It was when Sandler tried to mix actual romantic/dramatic plots into the usual comedy ("Big Daddy", "Mr. Deeds") that things started to turn sour.
"Anger Management" is another in a long line of similar Sandler characters, only this time the film seems to be more concerned with the fact that "Hey, we got Jack Nicholson, too!" than actually crafting anything much that's very funny. There's a ridiculous amount of potential here, but nobody involved seems to really care much. Cameos - a staple of any Sandler movie - barely raise a laugh (Bobby Knight's kinda funny) or are just embarassing (Woody Harrelson as a German tranvestite).
Sandler stars as Dave Buznik, an assistant who gets into some hot water on a plane flight to St. Louis. It wasn't his fault - as the trailers give away, he was just asking for some headphones - but the judge doesn't see it his way. He's assigned to Dr. Buddy Rydell (Nicholson)'s anger management group - Rydell just happens to be the passenger that was sitting next to him on the plane. That doesn't help though - one of his fellow group members gets him into a bar fight that includes a blind man. This, while not funny in theory, leads to the film's funniest moment, where Dave's lawyer (Kevin Nealon, terrific) tries to prove that the blind man isn't that blind).
So, instead of being thrown in jail, Buddy suggests to the judge that Dave be assigned to him for thirty days. What Dave doesn't realize is that this makes Buddy his roommate. Prime comedy material, right? Wrong. "Anger Management" plays it safe, never going beyond that in its attempt to put Sandler and Nicholson against each other. The idea that Buddy is more in need of some serious work than Dave is potentially decent idea never really developed into anything too hilarious by the script, which nevertheless tries to milk that one joke again and again (and again).
Again, I like Sandler. "Happy Gilmore" and "Billy Madison" took clever, silly ideas, some classic lines and made the most out of the characters. "Wedding Singer" was funny, if forgettable. "Punch-Drunk Love" didn't go over well with some audiences, but I thought Sandler provided a fine performance, and I liked that he was moving his career in another direction with a better director than he usually works with. In "Anger Management", however, he seems to realize that he's playing the least interesting version of a character that's he's done so many times before; even the slow-burn rage that Sandler has made famous really isn't shown here that much.
It also doesn't help that he's overshadowed by Nicholson (who seems to be at least trying to add some energy to a movie that desperately needs it), or the fact that the two don't have much chemistry. The movie also manages to fit Marisa Tomei (looking better than ever) in a few scenes as Dave's girlfriend, but she's criminally underused. If there was a "Most Thankless Role" award at the Oscars next year, she'd be a lock to win.
The film seemed even a bit more promising, given that Peter Segal was directing. Segal has previously been responsible for "Tommy Boy" and "Nutty Professor II"; neither a classic, but the former moved along and had two great performances, while the latter was an improvement over the first film. Here, he shows little style, poor sense of pacing and the kind of comedic timing that the previous two films showed is not seen here. To his credit, the screenplay is terrible, but Segal doesn't try to make magic out of mediocrity.
While I do admit that "Anger Management" throws out a few good bits (many of which you've already seen in the trailer), there are an alarming amount of jokes here that fall flat (having the two characters stop in the middle of rush-hour traffic and sing "I Feel Pretty" is just painfully unfunny and, like several of the film's gags, just stops the story in its tracks), go on longer than they should, or the punchline is made far too obvious. In addition, it occasionally seems like a scene transition or two are missing.
Again, there's so much potential here. Both stars could have been so capable of turning this situation into a delightful comic nightmare, where Buddy's methods got increasingly weirder and Dave finally started to lock horns with his new therapist - in other words: the whole thing, much angrier. The film's worst step was making Dave really not in need of anger management, finding himself in a situation he shouldn't have been in. The movie could have made this into a delightfully dark nightmare, but it doesn't. In a better version, Dave would have been as implosive - if not even more - than he's described as being.
Now that would have been funny.