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Apocalypse Now: Redux

There are 10 reasons not to miss Apocalypse Now: Redux at the theater —Richard Sharp (review...)

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Just when it appears that the world is to be subjected to another Adam Sandler movie, along comes the delightful Anger Management to make those fears go away. Fans of Sandler’s work will be surprised to see just how capable an actor he can be and not just the screaming idiot most of us are used to.

Sandler plays a shy guy who would rather walk away from a confrontation than to engage in it. He portrays Dave Buznik, a good-natured fellow who makes a living by designing pet toys like sweaters for obese cats. He lives in Brooklyn in one of those lofts that no non-fictional person who makes less than $500,000 a year can afford, and he loves the Yankees and his girlfriend Linda (Marisa Tomei).

His timidness is the result of a childhood incident which opens the movie, where he is de-pantsed (undies and all) by the local bully during his first kiss. Because of this, he will not kiss Linda in public, even if only one person might be looking.

Jack Attack

Happy-go-lucky Dave Buznik does not need anger management
Happy-go-lucky Dave Buznik does not need anger management

Buznik boards a plane on his way to a business meeting. He sits next to an innocent-looking person, who happens to be Jack Nicholson. We do not know who he is, other than a boorish passenger who wastes no time getting on Buznik’s nerves. Buznik asks a stewardess (make that flight attendant) for a set of headphones so he does not have to listen to Jack’s obnoxious banter. When the flight attendant blows him off, he tries to politely convince her to give him the headphones but the situation quickly escalates and Buznik is unjustly framed for “assaulting a flight attendant.”

He is found guilty by a judge and is sentenced to 20 hours of anger management therapy. Nicholson appears again and we find out he is esteemed psychiatrist and best-selling author Dr. Buddy Rydell, who offers his services to “help” Buznik. It is obvious that Buznik really does not need this treatment, but he still attends Rydell’s group therapy sessions filled with an obsessed sports fan, a pair of kinky lesbian lovers, and a hotheaded Grenada veteran named Chuck played by John Turturro. Despite his best intentions, Buzink’s progress only goes backward, and after another painful incident, Buznik is ordered to spend all his time with Rydell for “observation.”

I Feel Pretty

Nicholson and Sandler develop an interesting chemistry where one is obviously pushing the other’s buttons, and all the other can hope to do is to keep things from getting worse. Some of the moments are extremely clever, such as one where Rydell makes Buznik stop his car and block traffic on a busy New York City bridge, not letting Buznik move until he has controlled his temper by singing I Feel Pretty from West Side Story amid nasty catcalls from frustrated commuters. Rydell has very unconventional methods, and Nicholson shows absolute enjoyment in tormenting a nice guy for his own good.

Even though this game of one-upmanship provides Anger Management with its funniest moments, it also takes away the enormity of Buznik’s situation and the sense of urgency for him to resolve his issues is often lost. We forget exactly what is at stake, but Segal’s direction to so apt that these problems are easily forgiven.

It is not a perfect story, and some of the loose ends that are tied up do not make much sense, but the whole point of the movie is to show that some people need a different sort of anger management than what we expect.

Enter Laughing

Anger Management succeeds because it offers what many of us are trying to escape these times of war and uncertainty want: it entertains. It is easy for a story like this to get lost in its own cuteness and sentimentality, but the great performances by its cast keep the plot well on course. It does not linger on its many plot twists and does not resort to excessive cruelty as Sandler’s other movies have often done. No major villains here. Just firm but gentle discipline with hysterical results.

It’s also got some great cameos by real-life celebrities (Bobby Knight, John McEnroe) who need some anger management therapy themselves.

Despite the presence of Nicholson, this is Sandler’s show the whole way. Whether or not this is the movie that lifts him above the murk and mire that so many of his Saturday Night Live alumni have fallen into remains to be seen. But in Anger Management he shows that he is willing to expand beyond his sophomoric schtick. And he gives us a very funny movie in the process.