All right, I'll confess: I have a pretty high pain threshold, but a fairly low tolerance of things that are just plain annoying. When it comes to movies, my wife is the same way. If a character is too irritating, who wants to spend 90 minutes in the same room with him? That's the way we both felt about Jack Nicholson in "Anger Management." And (semi-spoiler alert) it doesn't help one bit to have an O. Henry "twist" ending that tries to assure you this character isn't really annoying at all. Sorry. I'm a witness, and for films like this there ought to be a witness protection plan.
What can make you irrationally angry about "Anger Management" is that it begins entertainingly enough and has a premise that seems ripe for comedy: a mild-mannered fellow who can't even stand up for himself at work is accused of raising his voice when he asks the flight attendant for the umpteenth time, could he please have a headset so he could watch the in-flight movie. "CALM DOWN," he's told, "our country is going through a difficult time." Well, anyone who's flown in our post-9/11 world knows that the tolerance level of airline personnel has plunged to ground zero. If you so much as question anything they do, you're being threatened with being denied a seat or, if you're already onboard, being tossed or arrested. Or, in the case of poor Dave Buznik, he's tasered by an air marshal who has even less tolerance than the flight attendant.
So poor Dave (Adam Sandler) ends up before a judge and is sentenced to attend 30 hours of anger management therapy with Dr. Buddy Rydell (Nicholson)--who, it turns out, thinks that you help people with anger problems by pissing them off even more until they spew out every ounce of rage. Then you can help them learn to control their anger. That in itself wouldn't be too bad. But Buddy is crazier and angrier than any of his patients, and the kind of stuff he pulls (throwing a plate of eggs against the wall, or reaching over from the passenger seat to yank the parking break while the driver is on a bridge going 30 miles per hour) just get a little too outrageous--and annoying--to be laugh-out-loud funny. It gets even worse when Dave ends up in court again and has to decide between prison time or having Dr. Rydell move in with him for "intensive therapy."
In fairness, you can't blame Nicholson, who's just having fun with the role. The devil made him do it, and in this case the devil is first-time screenwriter David Dorfman, whose script is uneven for the first two acts and uninspired for the third. One would guess that since it's another tailor-made vehicle for Sandler, it was the funny man who got Nicholson to go along with this overextended gag. But the gag stretches pretty thin. As the doctor manipulates his patient in order to get close to Dave's girlfriend, Linda (Marisa Tomei), he crosses a line that will have the audience getting angry and wondering why Sandler's character isn't more outraged. Elements like this actually work against the comedy.
But "uneven" means there are good times as well as bad, and "Anger Management" has plenty of moments when the lines are clever and the laughs genuine. When the wacko doctor asks him to disrobe and Dave is already thinking this guy's playing with half a stethoscope and refuses, the doctor asks, "Are you a homophobe, Dave?" "No," Dave deadpans, "I'm a pulling-my-penis-out-in-front-of-you phobe." Unfortunately, there are just as many weak moments. The thing is, so many gags seem hit-or-miss that they might be "hits" for some viewers and "misses" for others. Case in point? As Dave is driving too quickly to get to work because Buddy was insistent on accompanying him, Buddy starts yelling at him to slow down, that he's going to kill them both. But what's worse, driving fast or suddenly pulling the hand parking brake in fast-moving traffic? Cars screech to a halt, and there's not even a little fender bender here. That's the level of comedy we're working with. Logic is about as scarce as it is in an action flick. Oh, and what was the doctor's therapy? Well, before Dave can start the car again (as people honk and flip them off as they pass) he has to sing a chorus of "I Feel Pretty" with his shrink, which is just as bad as shrink rap. Some people are going to watch this scene at find it funny. I didn't.
I don't want to give away too much for those who still want to see it, but we get a Yankee Stadium moment with former mayor Giuliani that's way too similar to "The Naked Gun" to be funny . . . or moving. And as I said, I've never been a fan of those O. Henry sudden stops. The biggest problem with "Anger Management" is that you're laughing one minute and groaning the next. It's as frustrating as the average golfer's game: there are just enough nice shots to make you think that more are coming. It also speaks volumes when the only awards bodies that recognize a film are geared toward young audiences. Sandler received a Teen Choice Award for Choice Movie Hissy Fit. Now that's a resumé-builder.
"Anger Management" was transferred to a 50GB disc using AVC/MPEG-4 technology. The 1080p picture is presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Most of the scenes look stunning-far better than the DVD--but there's the occasional soft-looking frame that seems just a little less detailed and a little washed out. For the most part, though, the colors are vivid and naturally saturated, black levels are strong, and there's plenty of detail and 3-dimensionality.
The featured soundtrack is an English or French Dolby TrueHD 5.1, which delivers a solid enough audio. The tones are pure, the spread across the front speakers is wide enough, and the rear speakers leap into action just often enough to remind you that this is a true surround track. I wouldn't say that the sound is pushed far from the speakers to where it fills the room, so it's not quite as dynamic as some of the best Blu-rays I've reviewed. But it's still a solid audio experience.
"Uneven" seems to be the theme for this film, because that's how I'd describe the bonus features as well. I expected more from Sandler and director Peter Segal, though I'm not sure why. This is the guy who gave us "Tom Arnold: The Naked Truth," "Tommy Boy," "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps," and "Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult." Then again, he also came up with "My Fellow Americans" and "50 First Dates," which are far superior to this one. Sandler and Segal mostly comment on various actors' "chops" and talk about the film as if we hadn't seen it before. There's laughter and a lot of self-congratulatory nonsense, but no real insights to speak of. For that, you have to turn to an under 20-minute featurette called "Skull Lesson," which gives more of the background and behind-the-scenes info than we got on the commentary track. The only other bonus features are a not-very-funny gag reel that's under 10 minutes and a very brief cast and crew tribute (genuflection?) to Nicholson that seems misplaced. That's it.
When the smoke clears and the dust settles, it's hard not to walk away from this film thinking it could--and should--have been better. The performances aren't the problem. Nicholson is more irritating in "Anger Management" than he is holding court at the Oscars, but in fairness he's just having fun with the script. It's that road map for comedy that takes Sadler and his Buddy on a wrong turn, giving us situations that annoy as often as they amuse, and an ending that's clichéd.