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'Anger Management'

Times Staff Writer

Ever dread a dental appointment that didn't turn out to be as painful as anticipated? "Gee," you say when the drilling stops, "that could have been worse." And so it is with the haphazard Jack Nicholson-Adam Sandler vehicle, "Anger Management."

Perhaps a sense of quasi-relief sounds like small beer satisfaction for this clash-of-the-titans collaboration between symbols of quite different generations, a coming together of stars so major both of them have their personal chefs listed in the credits. But when it comes to high-concept, low-brow Hollywood comedies, you really have to take what you can get.

That's especially true where Sandler is concerned. His intriguing "Punch-Drunk Love" partnership with Paul Thomas Anderson notwithstanding, he's made some of the most dim-witted films since the heyday of Francis the Talking Mule. If you've seen "Little Nicky," "Big Daddy" and "Mr. Deeds," I rest my case.

But now he's got Nicholson as a sparring partner and that has to matter, especially when the actor reportedly had elements reworked to his satisfaction. Though what he does here pretty much defines coasting, Nicholson just fooling around adds an energy to even the kind of hopelessly contrived material that lets you know that the lowest common denominator just got lower.

Also helpful is that while the film's David Dorfman script is rife with what even the wimpy Motion Picture Assn. of America labels as "crude sexual content" (notably a moronic penis-envy subplot), the film features the warmer, more likable Sandler fans will remember from "The Wedding Singer." And say what you like about the man's atrocious taste in material, Sandler is a strong screen presence when he chooses to be.

But, as Anderson beautifully capitalized on in "Punch-Drunk," violence and hostility are never far from this actor's surface. In fact, all of "Anger Management" could be looked at (if you were a popular-culture graduate student desperate for a thesis topic) as Sandler's apologia for that persona, his self-justification for needing to just go out and slug people occasionally.

For Sandler's character, Dave Buznik, starts out as a man who never ever gets upset. An executive assistant at a major pet products company (check out his figure-flattering clothing for tubby tabbies), Dave was so traumatized by a childhood incident that he's turned confrontation-phobic and never stands up for himself. How this insecure dishrag got the attractive and vivacious Linda (Marisa Tomei) as a girlfriend is a mystery no one thinks to explain.

Then Dave ends up with the seatmate from hell on an airplane trip, and, quicker than you can say "contrived premise," has to take an anger management class or go to jail. The catch is the man running the class, world anger authority Dr. Buddy Rydell (Nicholson) is the very wild and crazy seatmate who caused Dave's problem in the first place.

Known for his, shall we say, unorthodox methods, Dr. Buddy believes "temper is the one thing you can't get rid of by losing it." He's convinced his new patient is an "implosive" angry guy, and dedicates himself to getting Dave to let his anger out.

Dr. Buddy introduces Dave to his therapy group and assigns the hostile Chuck (John Turturro), possibly the only veteran to suffer from Grenada invasion flashbacks, to be his anger ally. When this doesn't seem to be working, Dr. B. invades what he calls "the lair of the rage rhino" and moves in with his patient.

In addition to its stars, "Anger Management" is overloaded with cameos by famous people looking silly (everyone from Bobby Knight and John McEnroe to Rudy Giuliani and Robert Merrill) and good actors like John C. Reilly, Luis Guzman, Woody Harrelson and Heather Graham simply goofing off.

Director Peter Segal, whose résumé ("Naked Gun 33 1/3," "Tommy Boy," "Nutty Professor II") does not allow for Noel Coward comparisons, seems content to let everyone run around and do as they please, leading to a film with the narrative coherence of a drawer full of mismatched socks.

Though "Anger Management" does have some amusing moments, it's too undiscriminating and scattershot to be worth paying attention to. But if, like Dave Buznik, you're caught on an airplane with nothing better to do, things could be worse.

'Anger Management'

MPAA rating: PG-13, for crude sexual content and language

Times guidelines: Considerable graphic sexual dialogue, extended lesbian kissing, air of overall crudeness that may be inappropriate for younger audiences

Adam Sandler ... Dave Buznik
Jack Nicholson ... Buddy Rydell
Marisa Tomei ... Linda

Revolution Studios presents a Happy Madison production, released by Sony Pictures. Director Peter Segal. Producers Jack Giarraputo, Barry Bernardi. Executive producers Adam Sandler, Allen Covert, Tim Herlihy. Screenplay David Dorfman. Cinematographer Donald M. McAlpine. Editor Jeff Gourson. Costumes Ellen Lutter. Music Teddy Castellucci. Production design Alan Au. Art director Domenic Silvestri. Set decorator Chris Spellman. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes.

In general release.

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