I’ve come to the conclusion that in order to pull off an action-comedy, you really need a combination of three things: luck, the right actors, and more luck. Commercially successful action-comedies are hard enough to come by, but one that’s just as good as a movie as it is a product is rare. For the most part these action-comedies are happy to be PG-13, which is really what they should all be. But recently there have been a lot of R-rated action-comedies like “Analyze That”, the sequel to 1999’s “Analyze This”, which was also R-rated.
“Analyze That” opens 3 years after the events of the original, with mob boss Paul Vitti (Robert De Niro) in prison. When a gangland war on the outside puts Vitti’s life at risk, the former mob boss has to figure a way out of jail, quickly. He feigns insanity, which brings Vitti’s former shrink, Ben Sobel (Billy Crystal) into the scene. Still whirling from his estranged father’s death, Ben diagnoses Vitti as suffering from stress, and the State releases the mob boss into Ben’s custody with one stipulation: He has to go straight, which means finding a job.
The notion of a former mob chieftain who has to look for a 9-to-5 day job is the stuff comedy is supposed to be made off. And there are some inspired scenes, such as when Vitti tries his hand as a car salesman and offers knowledgeable details like how many bodies the trunk can hold. He also works briefly as a salesman at a jewelry store, but keeps daydreaming about robbing the place. Vitti finally gets a steady job when he’s offered a consulting role on “Little Caesar”, a “Sopranos”-inspired TV series that has an Australian playing the Italian lead.
Again, one would think that the idea of an actor playing a mobster who has to teach another actor within the movie to be a real mobster is the stuff of comedy legend. Unfortunately “Analyze That” is not nearly as funny as it could have been. Except for a couple of laughs, the film is really only worth a few chuckles. As is the case with most action-comedies, the comedy segments are weighed, and sometimes neutralized, by the hard segments, where people call each other the “F” word like it’s going out of style and Vitti is busting heads and dropping people off rooftops. But unlike the original movie, there’s very little blood this time around. When there is violence, we only see a gun being fired, but never see bullets hit the victim. A couple of physical assaults add blood to the film, but for the most part “Analyze That” just doesn’t care to be action-minded.
Despite the fact that everyone from the original has returned, including director Harold Ramis (“Groundhog Day”), “Analyze That” feels a bit empty. Lisa Kudrow, playing Billy Crystal’s nagging wife, has a couple of good lines (both of which appeared in the trailer), but for the most part I’m unsure what she’s doing in the movie at all. Because the film is still trying to hang onto its mob boss-goes-to-see-shrink theme from the first movie, we get a couple of perfunctory sit-downs between Ben and Vitti. The sessions are supposed to be breakthroughs, but come on, there’s a reason I refer to this franchise as “Sopranos”-lite.
Like the first movie, much of “Analyze That” is (unwisely) spent on the machinations of the New York mob families, and how they’re at each other’s throats and Vitti is in the middle. In an attempt to get out from the crossfire, Vitti secretly hatches a clever plan to get everyone off his back, and somehow Ben keeps stumbling into the middle of it. And yes, it is as contrived as it all sounds. Sometimes I get the feeling there just wasn’t a need for a sequel to “Analyze This” except for the sake of the almighty dollars. Then again, it’s not like this charge has never been leveled at Hollywood before.
I would like to say that the usually reliable Billy Crystal is funny in this, but he’s not. There’s only so much of his neurotic Jew shtick one can take. In fact, Robert De Niro seems to be holding the movie up on his shoulders all by himself. The film its so heavily leaning toward Vitti’s story that Ben, Laura, and everyone else not involved in the mob just felt like background characters walking through scenes.
Of note is Cathy Moriarty, who plays the tough new mob boss who took over for Vitti, and is concern about his return. And Callie Thorne shows up as a FBI agent with great legs. Thorne was a regular cast member on the cancelled “Homicide: Life on the Streets”, which is unquestionably the best damn cop show to ever grace TV screens. Everyone else in the movie is either playing mobsters or actors playing actors playing mobsters.
If you don’t get it, don’t worry. It’s not nearly as funny as it all sounds. Actually, much of “Analyze That” is not nearly as funny as it sounds, so there you have it.
Harold Ramis (director) / Peter Steinfeld, Harold Ramis, Peter Tolan (screenplay)
CAST: Robert De Niro …. Paul Vitti
Billy Crystal …. Ben Sobel
Lisa Kudrow …. Laura Sobel
Joe Viterelli …. Jelly
Cathy Moriarty …. Patty LoPresti