Anger Management

Adam Sandler’s onscreen persona has frequently been that of the angry moron, the simple-minded doof prone to fits of violence. “Anger Management” slyly twists that character, casting Sandler as an indecisive businessman whose problem is that he doesn’t lash out often enough.

Fans of the belligerent, stupid Sandler — the Sandler who dons a silly voice in lieu of an actual character — need not worry their baseball-capped heads that the acting skills Sandler exhibited in “Punch-Drunk Love” (2002) have carried over into his daily life. Rest assured, my dude-saying friends, “Anger Management” will make you laugh.

But for those who like their comedies to contain actual comedic content, “Anger Management” will make you laugh, too. For rather than prancing about, so obviously TRYING to be funny, Sandler is this time playing straightman to the zany personalities around him. He did this in “Mr. Deeds” (2002) too — but in that film, there was no one outrageous to contrast with his calmness. Here, he has the truly demented Jack Nicholson.

Sandler is Dave Buznik, a meek New Yorker who works for an animal-clothing design company. (That’s clothes FOR animals, not made out of them — sweaters for fat housecats, for example.) His long-time girlfriend but not-yet fiancee Linda (Marisa Tomei) wishes he would be more assertive; Dave, for his part, is threatened by Linda’s friendship with Andrew (Allen Covert), a smug co-worker.

After a mild confrontation on an airplane, the decidedly non-angry Dave is sentenced to anger-management counseling. The class is led by Dr. Buddy Rydell (Nicholson), a half-sane author and psychologist who exhibits signs of being the angriest, craziest person Dave knows. In order to observe him more closely — but really because it will make the movie funnier — Buddy insists on moving in with Dave. Soon, either because of Buddy or in spite of him, Dave and Linda’s relationship is on the rocks. None of this is making Dave any less angry.

Nicholson, as always, seems to be having a grand time behaving oddly, his malevolent grin making him the perfect devil figure to sit on Sandler’s shoulder. He is joined in the ranks of weirdos by Jon Turturro and Luis Guzman as anger-management group members.

First-time writer David Dorfman’s script is efficient as well as amusing, with each sequence contributing to the whole and almost no wasted scenes. He lacks confidence in his work, though, evidenced by the five or six random gross-out lines that seem to have been thrown in just in case the rest of the movie wasn’t funny.

The director, Peter Segal (who gave us the beloved “Tommy Boy”), wisely keeps Sandler on a tight leash while letting Nicholson cut loose. He also allows for several loopy cameos from Woody Harrelson, John C. Reilly, Bobby Knight and John McEnroe, among others.

The climactic scene, typical of Sandler movies, has Dave making a public spectacle of himself, though it’s done with such exuberance and mania — watch for several more goofy cameos — that it’s easy to overlook how absurd it is.

Throughout, Sandler remains steadfastly deadpan, hilariously bewildered by Dave’s plight. Nicholson, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to consider it slumming to work with Sandler, even though maybe he should. Together — shockingly — they make a humorous pair.

B (1 hr., 41 min.; PG-13, a lot of profanity including one F word, some strong sexual dialogue, slapstick violence.)