[Screen It]

(2002) (Robert De Niro, Billy Crystal) (R)

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Comedy: A psychotherapist once again finds himself in the company of a mob figure who's been paroled from prison and wants to find out who's trying to kill him.
Several years after mob boss Paul Vitti (ROBERT DE NIRO) came to him with anxiety problems, psychotherapist Ben Sobel (BILLY CRYSTAL) suddenly finds the mobster back in his life. During his father's funeral, Ben receives a call from Paul who believes his life is in danger. When Ben hangs up on him, Paul apparently cracks and begins alternating between bouts of catatonia and apparently believing that he's part of "West Side Story," complete with singing.

Since Ben earlier treated him, he's called in once again to examine Paul and determines that the stress of prison life may have brought on this mental deterioration. Accordingly, Justice Department official Richard Chapin (JOHN FINN) assigns Ben as Paul's temporary custodian and releases the mobster from prison.

Ben is given a month to get Paul back into mental competency and find him a job, but the moment they're beyond the prison gates, Paul snaps back into his normal self. Even so, Ben insists that he must stay at his house, much to the chagrin of his wife Laura (LISA KUDROW) and amusement of his son Michael (KYLE SABIHY).

Despite that and having agents Miller (JAMES BIBERI) and Cerrone (CALLIE THORNE) following his moves, Paul, with the help of his bodyguard, Jelly (JOE VITERELLI), sets out to discover who wants him killed.

Perhaps it's his mob family's tough new boss, Patti LoPresti (CATHY MORIARTY-GENTILE), or her intimidating lieutenant, Eddie DeVol (RAYMOND FRANZA), or maybe rival mob boss Lou "The Wrench" Rigazzi (FRANK GIO) wants him out of the picture.

At the same time, Paul tries to hold down a variety of jobs to meet his parole conditions. He eventually finds himself on the set of "Little Caesar," a TV mob drama, working for director Raoul Berman (REG ROGERS) and coaching Australian actor Anthony Bella (ANTHONY LAPAGLIA) in the ways of being a mob boss.

As the attempts on his life continues, Paul tries to figure out who's responsible, all while plotting his next big heist, all of which nearly drive Ben to the point of a breakdown.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
The late 1990s apparently weren't a good time for mobsters. Not only had the corporate world continued its march into buying more of mob-base Las Vegas, but there also hadn't been a good mafia film in years. It's not surprising then that Paul Vitti and Tony Soprano had anxiety issues and started seeing mental practitioners.

One of course, did so in HBO's "The Sopranos" and has continued until this year when the Mafioso finally fired his shrink. The other occurred in the comedy "Analyze This" where the mob figure sought the help of a psychiatrist and after various humorous occurrences, ended up being caught by the feds.

Since then, the mobster has apparently cracked up in prison - singing bits from "West Side Story" - and thus his shrink has been called back in to see what ails him or determine if he's faking his apparent breakdown. That's the premise of "Analyze That," the inevitable and anticipated sequel to the popular comedy hit that paired Robert De Niro ("City by the Sea," "Showtime") and Billy Crystal ("Monsters, Inc." "America's Sweethearts") as the mobster and psychiatrist respectively.

"The Sopranos" easily milked such a relationship for drama over the years - thanks to superb writing and performances as well as the fact that it wasn't the only focal point of the series. The question about this film, however, is whether the original used up all of the comedic potential.

As a result, many might be wondering if returning director and co-writer Harold Ramis ("Bedazzled," "Groundhog Day"), fellow co-scribe Peter Tolan ("Stealing Harvard," "America's Sweethearts") and new co-writer Peter Steinfeld ("Drowning Mona") could draw anything more out of it or introduce enough new elements to keep the effort fresh and, more important, funny.

The answer is that it feels like various other anxiously awaited, big budget sequels such as "Ghostbusters II" and "Men in Black II" with their reunions of talented cast & crew members. By that, I mean that the film retreads much of the material and comedic styling of the original in a meagerly entertaining if familiar and certainly not novel fashion.

Like those films, this one clearly lacks the spark and originality of its predecessor. That said, there's just enough humor present - at least early on - and Crystal and De Niro reprise their characters in enough of a fun way that less discerning fans of the original will likely enjoy and find this one to their liking.

Part of that's due to the filmmakers doing what's expected for a sequel and that's repeating and/or playing off the gags and comedy from the first film. It's too bad, though, that they simply aren't as funny or fresh this time around.

Some of the original cast members - including Lisa Kudrow ("Hanging Up," TV' s "Friends"), Joe Viterelli ("Serving Sara," "Shallow Hal") and Kyle Sabihy (TV's "The Amati Girls") - return to reprise their characters, but surprisingly don't get as much screen time or good material with which to work despite the filmmakers continuing their storylines in a logical fashion.

From the jumping off point, the story follows Paul and Ben as the re-teamed, unlikely duo with the shrink trying to keep his patient on the straight and narrow while the latter obviously has business to tend to, including trying to figure out who's trying to kill him. That leads to various humorous possibilities including the mobster trying to hold down various jobs that don't match his personality (and you thought your last car salesman was aggressive), while the psychiatrist once again finds himself in over his head in mob-related business.

Much of it doesn't make any sense and I suppose it really doesn't have to for a film like this. Yet, a few script tweaks here and there not only could have solved various plot problems (such as a high-profile mobster being let out of prison under the supervision of a psychiatrist and more) but also could have provided more imaginative complications and humorous situations.

For instance, James Biberi ("Fast Food Fast Women," "Made Men") and Callie Thorne ("Sidewalks of New York," "Whipped") appear as two federal agents assigned to trail the mobster, but they pretty much disappear for most of the film, a fate which also befalls Kudrow's character.

The likes of Cathy Moriarty-Gentile ("But I'm a Cheerleader," "Crazy in Alabama") as the new mob boss, Raymond Franz (TV's "The Sopranos") as her tenacious lieutenant, Reg Rogers ("Igby Goes Down," "Runaway Bride") as a high strung TV director and an uncredited Anthony LaPaglia ("The Salton Sea," "Lantana") as an Australian actor playing an Italian American in his "Sopranos" type show offer some potential, but little of it's realized to its full extent.

Like the early bits of De Niro suddenly breaking into renditions of those songs from "West Side Story," much of the film may have looked good in concept. For a variety of reasons, however, the execution just doesn't hit the necessary marks or stride to make the material be as funny as it could and should have been. While there are some laughs to be had, they just aren't as plentiful or successful as I would have liked to have seen.

As they say, the proof is in the pudding, and even those at our preview screening who laughed during the film's first half were noticeably rather quiet during the second when Ramis and company get away from the character interplay in favor of action and a big, heist-related ending (that seemingly comes out of nowhere).

Occasionally humorous and certainly easy enough to watch thanks to the presence and game attitude of De Niro and Crystal to play their parts, the film has its moments, but clearly not nearly enough of them to make this effort anywhere as fun or funny as its predecessor. "Analyze That" rates as a 3.5 out of 10.

Reviewed December 3, 2002 / Posted December 6, 2002

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