Monday, April 25, 2011

This and That: "Analyze That" (2002)

Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal return in a sequel that takes an unsubtle swipe at "The Sopranos," and offers little else.

Paul (Robert De Niro) is in prison and Ben (Billy Crystal) has settled down into a routine life in suburbia with wife Laura (Lisa Kudrow) and his son. Someone is gunning for Paul in the big house, and Ben's father dies. Paul has a complete nervous breakdown, singing the score to "West Side Story," and he is released into Ben's care (after some very funny psychoanalytic tests). Of course, Paul was faking and of course, the FBI knows, trailing the men as Paul must suddenly go out into the world and get a real job.

After several employment mishaps, Paul is hired on as a consultant on the mob TV series "Little Caesar." There, he reunites with his old gang and they begin planning a huge heist. Meanwhile, Ben is still trying to grieve for the father he sometimes hated, popping pills and trying desperately to keep Paul in line. In the end, we find out who was trying to kill Paul, who may be redeemable after all.

Like its predecessor, "Analyze That" is merely okay. The focus here is definitely on De Niro, as he is featured in almost every scene. Ben takes a backseat in the film when in fact his situation dealing with his father's death (running gag: "He's grieving, it's a process") is more interesting than Paul's heist and double crossing cronies.

The film takes an almost angry look at "The Sopranos" in the form of its fictional show "Little Caesar." Naturally, I felt a little hypocrisy at this stage. A fake movie about mobsters poking fun at a fake TV show about mobsters.

While no laugh riot, there are some bright spots. De Niro has the funny psycho tests scenes, and Crystal is very natural while watching his life unravel. If you thought Kudrow's role in the first one was overpraised, then you will completely think the same here. Her lines seem hurried, like she did this over lunch hours during "Friends," and she is once again completely wasted in an underwritten role. Joe Viterelli is always good as Jelly, Paul's henchman, and Cathy Moriarty is fine as a rival crime boss.

"Analyze That" is a ninety five minute sitcom, complete with end credits out takes, that has its likable characters and not much else. The initial "mobster/shrink" gimmick wore off long ago, and a third movie does not seem likely. (* * *) out of five stars.