Afterwards, however, he admitted that, except for the huge bucket of popcorn and giant-size Pepsi he had consumed, the evening essentially had been a waste of time. 'Oh, wait!' he added. 'I did laugh once.'

Well, I didn't. No guffaws. Nary a giggle. Okay, there was a bit of a smile for an over-the-top Woody Harrelson, one of the dozen or so well-known actors and other celebrities who were talked into making cameo appearances in the film. Done up in a long blonde wig and speaking with a lisping German accent, the mini-skirted Harrelson is barely recognizable as the outrageously accommodating transvestite hooker, Galaxia. Barely recognizable, that is, until Galaxea's eyeballs slide to one side in that weird Woody way.

Jack Nicholson's role in Anger Management is not a cameo and it's not funny. As incongruous as it seems, Nicholson is Adam Sandler's co-star. Is this the same widely acclaimed, versatile, mature actor who was just nominated for an Academy Award for his subtle and nuanced performance in About Schmidt? No, but this is the same Jack Nicholson who continues to be financially well-rewarded even when his film choices do suffer from a lapse in judgment and good taste. His performance here is one long, screechingly furious effort to squeeze laughs out of the cantankerous character of Dr. Rydell, a psychologist who specializes in--what else?--anger management.

Sandler, on the other hand, gives an uncharacteristically subdued performance, playing against type as the mild-mannered Dave Buznik, who innocently gets involved in a serious contretemps on an airplane and winds up with an assault charge. As punishment, the judge (the late Lynne Thigpen) sentences him to a course of 'treatment' by Dr. ('call me Buddy') Rydell. A wacko from the get-go, Buddy believes there are two kinds of anger, explosive and implosive. And, in nerdy Dave, he sees a classic slow-burner--an 'implosive' type who hasn't a clue he's actually seething with rage.

So this is the plot: Buddy eventually moves in with Dave and tries everything he can think of to piss him off--to force him to go ballistic. Assisting in this effort are a couple of bombastic fellows (John Turturro and Luis Guzman) from Dr. Rydell's anger management group; a former child bully who grew up to become a pacifist Buddhist monk (an unbilled John C. Reilly), and Dave's inept lawyer (Kevin Nealon). Marisa Tomei has the totally unchallenging role of Dave's patient girlfriend, Linda, and Allen Covert takes on one of the tasteless running gags which, in Sandler country, passes for high comedy.

The celebrity walk-ons who appear throughout Anger Management include Heather Graham, Robert Merrill, football coach Bobby Knight, John McEnroe and, as part of the film's grand finale in Yankee Stadium, Rudy Giuliani and his bride-to-be Judith Nathan. Not one of these people survives with dignity intact. Well, wait, there is one exception--Adam Sandler himself.

In addition to being sweet and surprisingly lovable--as, admittedly, he also was in Punch Drunk Love--Sandler's latest persona, Dave, does maintain a certain self-effacing dignity. A quality which could prove to be a big turnoff for Sandler's teenage fans. It's therefore possible that, after an impressive opening weekend, Anger Management won't be able to pull in the kind of repeat business Sandler's other films have enjoyed. This time, the joke may be on him.