It seemed at first that Anger Management was another step in Adam Sandler's bid for critical respectability. After the baby step that was Big Daddy Sandler returned with P.T. Anderson's ambitious Punch Drunk Love and was on his way to a career model similar to Steve Martin or Tom Hanks. Both those actors started in slapstick low brow comedies and gradually moved to more mature dramatic roles, Hanks of course becoming a perennial Oscar contender while Martin actually hosts the Oscars.
About five minutes into the Anger Management however, it became evident that Sandler was up to his old (and getting older by the minute) tricks. Worse, this isn't even the Sandler of Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore; ready and willing to do anything for a laugh. This is Little Nicky/Mr. Deeds Sandler, wandering around with a pitiful look on his face hoping you'll laugh with him rather than at him. Poor pitiful Adam, isn't he put upon? Sandler may be keeping his boyish looks, but his shtick is getting tired in a hurry.
The story goes mousy Dave Buznik (Sandler) gets himself assigned to anger management therapy through the always popular airplane misunderstanding. His therapist, Buddy Rydell (Nicholson) has less than orthodox methods (don't they all?). How will Buznik cope? Not well as Rydell systematically screws up both Buznik's personal and professional lives, capping it all off by stealing Buznik's girlfriend shortly after recommending Buznik break up with her.
Truly a film where all the best moments are in the trailer, the real fault lies not with Sandler, who we have come to expect this crap from, but with Nicholson. Sandler has always been the idiot, prone to occasional (and one suspects accidental) funny bits, the best being at his own expense. Nicholson however is the multiple Oscar winner, the magnetic force who fronts classics like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Chinatown, and The Shining. I've read that Sandler and Nicholson rewrote the script to make it more Jack friendly. If that's true I worry even more that Sandler's facial contortions have somehow permanently distorted Nicholson's sense of good taste.
This could have been a huge step forward for Adam Sandler. An opportunity for him to show he could rise up and hold his own with the likes of Jack Nicholson. Instead Anger Management disappoints because Nicholson is forced to drop down to Sandler's level. It's called slumming, and it's sad to watch.