Billy Crystal cracks Robert De Niro up. This much we know from the outtakes playing alongside the end credits of Analyze That, when we get to see Crystal, as neurotic shrink Dr. Ben Sobel, improvising in a Chinese-restaurant scene wherein Ben’s meds have mixed with alcohol to numb his lips. Crystal goes off on a tangent, sticking vegetables to his face, and De Niro, sitting next to him, shows why he was up for a reunion with Crystal: Apparently everything Billy does strikes Bob hysterically funny.
Analyze That may have been more fun for De Niro to do than it is to watch. An entirely needless sequel to 1999’s surprise hit Analyze This, it no longer has the elements of surprise and novelty in its favor. De Niro has since jollied it up in Meet the Parents, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, and Showtime, and has just hosted Saturday Night Live; by now we not only know he can do comedy, we may suspect that’s almost all he wants to do now. When, as anxiety-stricken mobster Paul Vitti, he pulls out his shtick from the first film — pointing at Ben and saying “You … you’re good, you” — it feels like a catchphrase that never caught on. The first film exhausted most of the odd-couple possibilities between Ben and Paul; the second one just feels exhausted.
Here, the gimmick is that Paul has faked insanity to get out of jail and has been placed in Ben’s custody. Ben is charged with the responsibility of getting Paul a legit job and making sure he doesn’t fall back into mob life. But mob life pulls him back in anyway; two rival gangs (one headed by Cathy Moriarty-Gentile, whose scenes with De Niro 22 years after Raging Bull should sizzle more than they do) want Paul’s allegiance, and his old “family” (including Joe Viterelli as the amiable flunky Jelly) wants him back in the fold. Ben has to deal with Paul’s dilemma as well as his own: Ben’s wife Laura (Lisa Kudrow, spinning her few lines off-center with a snappish passive-aggressiveness) doesn’t want Paul — not to mention his sexually voracious girlfriend — under her roof.
Why did Harold Ramis want to direct this? Didn’t he learn anything from Ghostbusters II? Comedy isn’t built for longevity over a series of films (with a few exceptions), and Analyze That often feels sketchy and half-hearted, a string of situations rather than a solid premise. Ramis and his writers spoof The Sopranos (which premiered on HBO around the same time Analyze This came out, and which name-checked the film in its second season, I believe) by having Paul offer his services as consultant to a mob show called Little Caesar, with an uncredited Anthony LaPaglia using his natural Aussie accent as the show’s star. (LaPaglia isn’t given enough funny opportunities to spoof De Niro; I would’ve rather seen Alec Baldwin — who does a mean Bob impression — in the role.) The film is full of missed opportunities, like a young gangster who calls himself Al Pacino, or Ben’s son (Kyle Sabihy) getting hired as Paul’s driver, or the way Ramis introduces sexy, funny actresses like Callie Thorne (as a leggy FBI agent) or Donnamarie Recco (as Paul’s girlfriend) only to forget they exist.
No, the movie would rather indulge in a car chase (note to Ramis: car chases are dead air in most any comedy) and a gold-heist climax. I wish Ramis had stayed with the idea of Paul trying to go straight instead of blowing it off in a montage of Paul failing at various nine-to-fives. Instead we get psychobabble on the run, and various laws broken by Paul and Ben with no consequences. And except for that bit in the Chinese restaurant (the outtakes, by the way, are funnier than what they actually used) and the embarrassing early scenes when Paul fakes dementia and sings (terribly) tunes from West Side Story, neither De Niro nor Crystal does anything he didn’t do three years ago.
Analyze This came from nowhere and introduced us to Robert De Niro the born-again comedian; it worked because Ramis took one of De Niro’s characters from the world of Martin Scorsese and paired him with schlumpy, skittish Crystal. Analyze That is just more of the same, watered down and stripped of its novelty. “I have two words for you: pants suit,” says Lisa Kudrow to the leggy, skirted FBI agent. I have three words for Ramis and company: Familiarity breeds contempt.