Analyze That

Movie Information

Score:

Genre: Comedy
Director: Harold Ramis
Starring: Robert de Niro, Billy Crystal, Lisa Kudrow, Joe Vittereli, Anthony la Paglia
Rated: R

If the best thing you can say about Analyze That is that it’s painless and harmless, it’s also the worst thing you can say about it. Yes, it suffers from sequelitis and that nagging sense of too carefully trying to replicate a previous success. Even the film’s title is so desperate to conjure memories of Analyze This that no one bothered to notice that the phrase “analyze that” just doesn’t have the same cheeky rudery as the original.

Sure, it’s yet another instance of Robert DeNiro’s seemingly unstoppable downhill slide (who gives this man career advice — Bela Lugosi’s old agent?). However, it’s just not a movie that’s either bad enough or important enough to get worked up about. It’s slick, professional and sporadically funny, which is about what you could expect. Of course, DeNiro’s back as gangster Paul Vitti and Crystal’s right there as Dr. Ben Sobel, and so on down the cast list. This round we find Vitti marked for slaughter in Sing Sing (if the film ever quite makes it clear why, I missed it), so he does what any right-thinking gangster would — feigns mental illness by singing the entire score of West-Side Story so that he’ll be released into the care of his shrink, Dr. Sobel. And, of course, that’s exactly what happens. (Hey, no one ever said the film was a monument to realism.)

Now, this could have gone any number of ways — the most promising of which (from a farce standpoint) would have been a game of comic cat-and-mouse between Vitti and Sobel on the question of Vitti’s sanity. Rather than follow that path, the film has Vitti drop the pretence as soon as he and Sobel clear the prison gates, kvetching about the fact that he’s been singing West Side Story for three days. (“I’m half a fag,” grouses Vitti — a line only DeNiro could make marginally palatable, and one which draws even more attention to the improbability of Vitti knowing all the lyrics to all the songs in the show.)

From here on, the film is a series of increasingly incomprehensible events, peppered with “wildly comic” bits of business, such as DeNiro wandering into Sobel’s Jewish family home with his open bathrobe, and giving everyone a good look and asking what — or who — he has to do to get some bacon. This is a pretty fair barometer of the level of humor at work here. It’s all pretty silly and horrifyingly sitcomish, but the players are sufficiently skilled and likable that it goes down with reasonable smoothness.

It helps that Analyze That wisely affords each of the main character at least one standout moment (catch Joe Viterelli’s expression when he “accidentally” drops a bad guy on his head). One of the film’s brightest notions was casting bona fide Australian actor Anthony LaPaglia as an Australian who stars as an Italian American in a Mafioso TV series called Little Caesar. LaPaglia is himself so often cast as an Italian-American mobster or cop that it’s a neat little in-joke. Unfortunately, this aspect of the film, while frequently funny, smacks a little too much of last summer’s DeNiro stinker, Showtime; the high point is a scene where the show’s director mistakes gangland mob boss Patti LoPresti (Cathy Moriarty) for an actress playing a hooker. Moriarty (who played DeNiro’s wife in Raging Bull) is at her brassy, outspoken best in this and her few other scenes.

The writing (and in some cases, one suspects, ad-libbing) tends to be fairly bright, especially for Crystal’s character. His assessment of himself as unsuited to the job — “I specialize in neurotic soccer moms and alcoholic gentiles” — is on a par with Woody Allen. But in the end, Analyze That is too burdened with plot — and not very believable plot — to really work. It’s a movie that refuses to accept the fact that the comic Mafia flick is a sub-genre that has outstayed its welcome; and rather than parody that inviting target, Analyze That takes the form to its heart and tries to be a contender. The film could have deftly skewered the whole sub-genre; instead, it sinks to the level of a marginally classier Mickey Blue Eyes with a smattering of more laughs.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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