Movie review, 'Analyze That'

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Not every new installment is a step forward. "Analyze This," the hit 1999 Harold Ramis comedy about a neurotic Italian-American gangster and his fussy Jewish psychiatrist (played smashingly by odd couple Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal), has now spawned "Analyze That," and the new entry turns out to be a Hollywood sequel of surpassing silliness and wasted talent. I had a pretty good time at "Analyze This," but this movie is a display of squandered expertise - an incredible shrinking shrink-and-mobster comedy.

Once again, De Niro plays bedeviled mob boss Paul Vitti, a killer don with a secret soft side, and Crystal is nervous Manhattan psychotherapist Ben Sobel. And once again, they bond against a comical backdrop of Mafia chicanery, suburban snobbery and Freudian folly. But other than paychecks and the pleasure of each other's company, nothing here inspires either them or us - least of all the movie's terminally implausible script.

Where "This" was lazy but enjoyable, a formula comedy redeemed by its stars, "That" is even lazier and far less enjoyable. And though the stars redeem it once again - with some help from stellar returning backup players Joe Viterelli (as Vitti's humorous torpedo Jelly) and Lisa Kudrow (as Ben's patrician wife Laura) - it's a pointless achievement.

"Analyze That" is well directed by Ramis, and the actors consistently rise above their material. But with material like this, that's no major feat.

The plot goes silly almost immediately. Vitti, left in the slammer at the end of the last picture, discovers a plot to whack him that is possibly engineered by his old mob rivals Lou "The Wrench" Rigazzi or Patti LoPresti ("Raging Bull" veteran Cathy Moriarity-Gentile). So he fakes his way out of prison and into Sobel's home by feigning psychosis via horrible warbling and mangling the songs from "West Side Story" and bouts of near-catatonic stupor. Amazingly, this ploy works. Vitti is released into the custody of his old pal Dr. Sobel, and Sobel's Montclair, N.J., home is declared a "temporary federal institution."

Give me a break. What justice system, even in a movie comedy, would release a major Cosa Nostra boss into the custody of a psychiatrist in a pricey suburb, with such minimal supervision and police presence? And what Mafia boss in his right mind - Vitti, of course, is crazy like a fox - would imagine that he's safer with Sobel? And what employers in their right mind would hire a supposed lunatic mobster in the middle of a prison term for high-profile jobs like restaurant greeter, car and jewelry salesman, and advisor to a hit Mafia TV series?

We're not even mentioning the movie's double-reverse heist climax, which depends on mass gullibility among the remnants of the New York Mafia. "Analyze That" makes so little sense that you might think the real explanation was that both Vitti and Sobel had gone crazy and this movie was their joint hallucination.

Actually, that might have made for a better show, because De Niro and Crystal together, even in a cockamamie script like this, still deliver numerous jolts of pleasure. De Niro's new broadly comic mode, in which he exaggerates his old "Mean Streets"/"Taxi Driver"/"Goodfellas" psycho dramatic style, is fun to watch. And so is Crystal; he's an expert "pointer" and sly commentator on his own scenes and fellow actors. But it's still a forgettable movie.

By the end, Ramis has been reduced to that coyest of end-credit ploys, running outtakes of the actors blowing their lines and cracking each other up, as if to prove that everyone had a good time.

Ramis and his co-writers (Peter Tolan and Peter Steinfeld) can't seem to win on what seems a sure bet: two of Hollywood's best movie actors in tailor-made roles. Chance after chance is thrown away - the parallels with "The Sopranos" being only the most obvious.

I'm not sure what the producers might want to call any third installment in this series (assuming the public falls for this one too, out of habit). But "Analyze? Fuggedaboutit!" should be a strong contender. And unless the writers can muster more inspiration, they should forget about it.

2 1/2 stars (out of 4) "Analyze That"
Directed by Harold Ramis; written by Peter Steinfeld, Ramis, Peter Tolan; photographed by Ellen Kuras; edited by Andrew Mondschein; production designed by Wynn Thomas; music by David Holmes; produced by Paula Weinstein, Jane Rosenthal. A Warner Brothers Pictures release; opens Friday, Dec. 6. Running time: 1:35. MPAA rating: R (for language and some sexual content).
Paul Vitti - Robert De Niro
Ben Sobel - Billy Crystal
Laura Sobel - Lisa Kudrow
Jelly - Joe Viterelli
Patti LoPresti - Cathy Moriarity-Gentile
Raoul Berman - Reg Rogers Lou "The Wrench" Rigazzi - Frank Gio

Michael Wilmington is the Chicago Tribune Movie Critic.

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