- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2005

Joan Allen’s character isn’t just miffed in “The Upside of Anger.” She’s mad, Hulk mad. We half expect the svelte actress to turn emerald green and start leaping across the screen. “Anger’s” writer-director, Mike Binder, should be angry, too. At himself.

His new film bubbles with earthy moments and an adult romance as intricate as any in recent memory. But his instincts, perhaps honed on lesser fare such as his failed HBO series, “The Mind of the Married Man,” keep betraying him.

For every poignant moment, there’s a clunker trailing close behind to snuff out the sentiment.

Miss Allen plays Terry, a married mother of four beautiful daughters whose husband one day up and leaves without so much as a Post-It note in explanation.

The girls roll with the punch, one of “Anger’s” many hard-to-swallow conceits, but Terry is transformed by the loss.

She becomes a dour, difficult woman who somehow allows a drunken former baseball star, Denny (Kevin Costner), into her life.

Beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to drinking buddies.

The two warily draw closer while Terry drifts apart from her brood.

Denny has his own problems, including a hormonal radio producer (Mr. Binder) and a stubborn refusal to talk baseball on his show, which infuriates his bosses.

Miss Allen’s blistering performance comes as no surprise: When given a meaty role, she picks the bone clean. The delight here is Mr. Costner, who suits up as yet another baseball player past his prime, but one with a heart as raw and real as that of a Chicago Cubs fan.

The actor’s taciturn manner often works to his advantage when he’s cast to type — think Eliot Ness from 1987’s “The Untouchables.”

Here, he unplugs a fountain of charisma we never knew bubbled beneath him. The performance should put him back on Hollywood’s radar alongside reclaimed star Dennis Quaid.

The film’s four daughters (Keri Russell, Erika Christensen, Evan Rachel Wood and Alicia Witt) don’t make a strong enough impression to counterbalance Miss Allen’s Terry, and a near-death subplot involving one of the four feels tacked on for maximum melodrama.

Mr. Binder’s final-act twist is both far-fetched and unnecessary, and a moment of gallows humor involving a head splintering feels as though it was swiped from an edgier film.

He redeems himself partly by playing Mr. Costner’s lecherous producer, a man who swears by women half his age but seems as content as he is pathetic. It’s a tortured role, expertly written and performed, and one that leaves audiences wavering between pity and contempt.

Between “Anger” and “The Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” ‘tis the season for disgruntled ladies let loose. But “The Upside of Anger” could have been so much more than a workbook sampler of anger management.

***

TITLE: “The Upside of Anger”

RATING: R (Sexual situations, strong language and frequent alcohol use)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Mike Binder

RUNNING TIME: 116 minutes

WEB SITE: www.upsideofanger

.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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