Sandler returns to the big-screen with ‘Anger’

Adam Sandler often plays characters prone to violent outbursts, so it hardly seems surprising that his latest film is titled “Anger Management.” In fact, Sandler is among the few Hollywood stars commanding $20 million per film yet managing to practically make and re-make the same film again and again. Even $20 million club-member Harrison Ford occasionally strays from his comfort zone of action films (unfortunately, that means getting limp comedies like “6 Days, 7 Nights” or take-it-or-leave it remakes like “Sabrina”). So maybe you can’t blame Sandler for sticking to what works, but at this point the formula is getting a little old. Anyone who has ever seen a Sandler film knows the formula: He plays an outcast character in a wacky situation and that’s where the trademark rage and hilarity begins. Whether it’s a college drop-out who re-enters grade school in “Billy Madison” or a stuttering water boy with an overbearing mother in “The Water Boy,” Sandler has essentially played the same character almost a dozen times now. But who’s complaining?

Even for Sandler fans who are tired of the formula, “Anger Management” has one huge ace up its sleeve: Jack Nicholson. After his turn as “ordinary old man who retires” in “About Schmidt,” Nicholson was probably looking for a role that would let him cut loose, and “Anger Management” gives him more than ample opportunity to do so.

Nicholson plays an anger management counselor that is assigned to help Sandler’s character after a convoluted altercation aboard an airplane. The twist is that Adam Sandler’s character in this film is not of the rage-filled “Happy Gilmore” variety audiences know and love. Instead, Sandler plays a genuinely mild-mannered character, an advertising executive, who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and gets misdiagnosed by Nicholson as a “ticking time bomb” of rage.

The plot of this film is just an excuse to let two actors of different generations and backgrounds have some fun with each other. It would be a stretch to say that the audience is going to have as much fun as Sandler and Nicholson seem to be having, but “Anger Management” isn’t the worst way to spend a few hours. Just for good measure, the film is loaded with cameo appearances too numerous to mention here. Though if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve already seen the best cameo; John C. Reilly plays a Buddhist monk that Sandler’s character manages to enrage.

The film was directed by Peter Segal, and it got me wondering about the other directors that Sandler usually works with. Checking the Internet Movie Database demonstrated that he has a stable of about three or four directors with whom he works, and it’s my suspicion that they are actually all the same person using different names. “Anger Management” looks exactly like Sandler’s other films – nice and colorful, nothing visually noteworthy, standard comedy on a big Hollywood budget. Like all of Sandler’s films, “Anger Management” has a totally generic, but mildly pleasing look to it. Even if my suspicion is as stupid as it sounds, the director’s job here is not to break cinematic ground, but to give Sandler the best environment to tap into his rage. Rather than giving “Anger Management” any more print than it really needs, let’s take a look at some of the highlights of Adam Sandler’s Cinema of Rage.

“Happy Gilmore” (1996)

The heyday of Sandler rage, this film has it all; Brawling with Bob Barker, winging golf clubs in every direction and picking fights with alligators, Sandler is clearly in his prime here, and I have to say that his early lower-budget movies are much funnier than his recent ones.

“The Wedding Singer” (1998)

Even in this sweet romantic comedy in which Sandler’s wedding singer character falls for Drew Barrymore, he still threatens to strangle the father of the groom with his microphone cord.

“Big Daddy” (1999)

Again, like “The Wedding Singer” Sandler is on “sweet” mode here, but that doesn’t stop him from roughing up a man on Halloween who neglects his trick-or-treating adopted son or threatening to break the hip of the older gentlemen for whom his girlfriend leaves him.

“Mr. Deeds” (2002)

Sandler plays a nice and simple man who inherits a ridiculous amount of money and goes to New York City. But this small-town character has no problem administering serious life-threatening beat-downs to any one who makes fun of his small-town ways. Even 95 lb. costar Winona Ryder gets a fight scene in this film.

“8 Crazy Nights” (2002)

Didn’t see it, but from what I hear, most of the rage connected with this film concerned how awful it was.

“Punch-Drunk Love” (2003)

Saving the best for last, “Punch-Drunk Love” is the only time Sandler has worked with a notable director (Paul Thomas Anderson) and this is a strange, strange film that came and went in theaters very quickly last year. That is too bad because in addition to great filmmaking, it offers new levels of Sandler rage; whether he’s beating up bathrooms or punching windows, “Punch-Drunk Love” manages to both tweak Sandler’s persona and create a completely original take on the romantic comedy.