NOW PLAYING: Analyze That

Posted: Sunday, December 08, 2002

Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal are taking it easy. A few years ago, someone talked De Niro into lampooning his famous mobster image in the surprisingly successful comedy Analyze This. Since then, he's done more easy comedies than serious dramas, and it really looks as though he is starting to get comfortable. Billy Crystal, on the other hand, is born to comedy, but has been virtually MIA since Analyze This came out. Maybe he's directing, maybe he's producing, maybe he's spending more time with his family; whatever the reason, both he and De Niro seem to be taking a well deserved rest. Ok, break's over! Now get back to making movies that people want to see!

I say that in reference to their latest collaboration, the sequel to Analyze This, aptly titled Analyze That, not because it's a bad movie. It's not. It's not a very good movie either, however. If you're in a hurry for the grade, we're talking C, C+ tops. But the point is, I don't know that anyone was clamoring for this thing to get made. Ok, yes, the concept of a mafia don in therapy is pretty amusing, but since Analyze This came out we've had four seasons of The Sopranos, a brilliantly conceived and executed series, and there really isn't a lot of new ground to cover. The doctor-patient relationship has been explored more thoroughly and, though The Sopranos is not a comedy per se, much more amusingly than De Niro and Crystal can hope to achieve. The Sopranos has also given us a view of the whole life of a mobster which, while I have no idea if is accurate, is incredibly compelling and immensely entertaining. It's a standard that Analyze That couldn't possible have risen to. That said, one of the writers had one great idea for this thing. Too bad no one listened.

Robert De Niro is Paul Vitti, a once powerful head of a New York family, now doing a stint in Sing Sing. At the end of the last film, Vitti had vowed to go straight, but now he has to get out of jail, pronto. Seems there's been a shake-up in the power structure back home and someone is out for his head. Billy Crystal is Dr. Ben Sobel, Vitti's therapist and now, by a wacky twist of justice, custodian of his mafioso patient. For some reason that isn't ever really clear, Vitti is released into Sobel's custody and is supposed to work on getting rehabilitated into society. To do that, he has to find a regular job. This whole plot device is nothing more than a weak set-up for a series of wacky mobster-has-to-work-retail gags that form the centerpiece of the entire movie. It's your classic fish out of water scenario and works out about as well as you might expect. It's amusing, but so easy. Finally, however, we get to that one great idea I mentioned before. He gets a job on a TV show called Little Caesar, as a consultant. For one, brief, shining moment, there it was. This should have been the whole movie. Real mobsters versus TV mobsters; worlds colliding. Chaos. Hilarity. Play-within-a-play. It was all there, laid out like an expensively catered buffet. And they threw it all away for some cheap, been-there-done-that gold heist scam. Sigh.

It's surprising to me that two guys who have produced so much quality cinema should be inclined to take so few risks. Did they think their movie wouldn't get the green light from the studio if they didn't take a well paved road? There is a movie coming out this month, written by a guy and his twin brother, about the same guy and his twin brother who write a screenplay together and end up inserting themselves into finished product. It's called Adaptation and stars Nicholas Cage as twins. That movie got the green light, and you're telling me that Crystal and De Niro couldn't have been a little more creative? Yes, their acting was fine. But so what? We've seen it all before. The same jokes, the same De Niro crying sequence, the same neurosis. I was bored, to be perfectly honest. Who would guess that the guys who gave us Taxi Driver, The Godfather II, and Goodfellas, as well as The Princess Bride, City Slickers, and When Harry Met Sally, could come up with such a bland, flavorless offering.

Analyze That is a definite star vehicle, which is probably what the producers are betting on. Unfortunately, it's like a Yugo. It takes it's time getting started, and then goes nowhere. A friendly word of advice to Hollywood. Don't waste our time. There are plenty of high profile, risk-taking films coming out, that we don't need one so dull as this. Maybe if this had been released in September, or February, it would be more appreciated. We've got Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Catch Me if You Can, and Gangs of New York to watch this month. Or, to paraphrase the therapy loving Stuart Smalley: it's not smart enough, it's not good enough, and people don't like it. Analyze that. Grade: C

Analyze That is rated R for language, sexual situations, and violence.

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