Director : Harold Ramis
Screenplay : Peter Steinfeld and Harold Ramis and Peter Tolan
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2002
Stars : Robert De Niro (Paul Vitti), Billy Crystal (Ben Sobel), Lisa Kudrow (Laura Sobel), Joe Viterelli (Jelly), Cathy Moriarty-Gentile (Patti LoPresti), Pat Cooper (Masiello), Red Rogers (Raoul), Joseph Bono (Wiseguy)
Analyze That is the opposite of its predecessor, the hilarious Analyze This (1999). While reviewing that film three years ago, I wrote that the film’s ultimate strength and why it was so effective as a comedy was because director Harold Ramis “knows to play the movie straight, and he doesn't force the laughs down our throats.” It’s as if someone else directed Analyze That, although the credits assure us it was Ramis again. Virtually every joke in this unnecessary sequel is either forced, old, or just unfunny to begin with.
Robert De Niro returns as Paul Vitti, the high-powered New York mob boss whose high-stress lifestyle was causing him panic attacks. As the movie opens, he is incarcerated in Sing-Sing and is convinced that someone is trying to kill him. In the first of the movie’s labored jokes, he fakes insanity by singing show tunes from West Side Story until he is released to the care of his psychiatrist, Dr. Ben Sobel (Billy Crystal). Ben doesn’t want anything to do with his former patient, but the F.B.I. literally forces Vitti on him.
Screenwriters Peter Steinfeld, Harold Ramis, and Peter Tolan have almost no clue what to do from here, and the rest of the movie develops in a series of awkwardly constructed and silly subplots that try to milk laughs, but get rarely a chuckle, and waste a good deal of talent in the process. Lisa Kudrow, playing Ben’s wife, has next to nothing to do—her role is littler more than a glorified walk-on, much different from her role as Ben’s put-upon girlfriend in the first movie. And, while it was good to see character actor Joe Viterelli return as Jelly, Vitti’s enormous, craggy-faced right-hand man, he also seems underutilized, hanging around the edges of the frame as if waiting for a writer to give him a good line.
The real problem is that Analyze That lacks the spontaneity and the freshness of Analyze This. Of course, being a sequel with no real purpose other than to make money, that’s not entirely surprising—it’s a retread with virtually no new ideas of its own. The first movie had a genuine sense of how to play things straight and still make it funny; the laughs depended on the audience’s understanding of mob-movie conventions and our willingness to laugh at them. There’s almost no set-up in the sequel, just a series of lame-duck jokes scattered amid a rather dull plot. Even a montage of scenes in which Vitti tries to go straight by taking on “legitimate” jobs like selling cars and working as the maître d' at a fancy restaurant seem strained, as if the filmmakers saw potential for laughs but just couldn’t come through.
It also doesn’t help that De Niro is trying to act funny. His performance in Analyze This worked so perfectly because he played it like he was in a genuine mob flick. Someone must have tipped him off this time around that he’s in a comedy, because he hams it up at every turn, grimacing and scowling and pushing all the wrong buttons in the process. (This movie and Showtime are proof-positive that De Niro needs to be very careful when choosing comedy projects.) Billy Crystal, on the other hand, sticks with his mild-mannered shtick, and it works when he’s on-screen, although he doesn’t get nearly enough time with De Niro, and the enjoyment of watching their complicated relationship evolve is largely lost.
As others have suggested, it may be that Analyze That suffers largely not out of comparison to its predecessor, but out of comparison to The Sopranos, which for the last four years has been the best show on television. Analyze That attempts to work it into the story by incorporating a subplot involving Vitti working as an advisor for a Sopranos-style TV show called Little Caesar. On paper, this seems like a comedy goldmine, but it plays out badly, particularly whenever Red Rogers walks on-screen as Raoul, the overworked and bizarre director of the show. The fact that Ramis and company couldn’t get solid laughs out of something that seems this sure-fire is testament to just how off Analyze That really is.
Copyright © 2002 James Kendrick