From Peter Segal, the director of “Tommy Boy,” comes the new comedy “Anger Management.” Opening with an instance of childhood trauma where he is “depanted” during his first kiss, Dave Buznik (Adam Sandler) grows up unable to kiss his girlfriend Linda (Marisa Tomei) in public. The least of his problems, Buznik allows a Keaton-esque world to walk all over him and never fights back … until he meets Dr. Buddy Rydell (Jack Nicholson).

Todd Weiser
Courtesy of Columbia

After “assaulting” a flight attendant on a plane, Dave is sentenced to anger management, a self-help group for people who can’t seem to control their rage. Dave is assigned an ally in the group, Chuck (John Turturro), who manages to get him into so much trouble that Buddy has to shack up with him for more intensive therapy.

Having to adhere to Buddy’s every command, Dave finds his world turned upside down and inside out, helpless against a man who is seemingly insane. In one scene, Buddy has Dave stop his car in the middle of a bridge on the way to work to sing “I Feel Pretty.” It would be later, when Buddy steals Linda from Dave, that the stakes get raised and Dave becomes a man of action, beginning his quest to save the one he loves.

The question that runs throughout the movie is whether Buddy is actually trying to help Dave, or whether he has other, more devious motives. With the world already apparently conspiring against him and Buddy at the helm of the great ship Dave, one wonders when the pain ends and the healing begins.

The film itself isn’t painful despite the fact that it seems to take forever to get underway. If you can sustain interest through the setup, the path leads to great laughs, inherent in the sheer comedic acting potential, throughout the rest of the picture.

Sandler and Nicholson are a decent duo onscreen, and both actors are eager to upstage each other. Sandler’s signature Happy Madison-style is a great compliment to the cool Nicholson, who can get by with simply moving his eyebrows or nodding his head. The cast list doesn’t solely rely on the credentials of these two stars either: Woody Harrelson, Heather Graham, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and college basketball coach Bobby Knight all make appearances, just to name a few.

Moving from films like “Billy Madison” and “Happy Gilmore,” to “Punch-Drunk Love” and now “Anger Management,” it’s safe to say that Sandler has grown as an actor. While he does retain some of his earlier flavor, Sandler’s career has taken him to new comedic and dramatic heights that allow his creativity as an actor to shine through.

2 1/2 Stars

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