THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Analyze That is another example of Hollywood giving us a sequel where one was not necessary. When the first film - Analyze This - was released in 1999, it became a big hit. The fact that it premiered at the same time as HBO's similarly themed mobster-seeing-a-shrink show "The Sopranos" didn't seem to affect the movie. In fact, the show and the film made nice companion pieces; one played with the idea dramatically, while the other did it comedically. Despite being successful at the box office, there was absolutely nothing about Analyze This that begged for a sequel. It was a good idea done well and, moreover, done completely. Watching this sorry sequel is a maddening experience, as you know someone at Warner Brothers is probably thinking, "We sold it to you once, we can sell you the same thing again."

Billy Crystal and Robert DeNiro return to the couch in Analyze That
Robert DeNiro returns as mob boss Paul Vitti. As the movie opens, he is serving time in prison and fears (correctly) that someone is trying to kill him. He fakes insanity by bursting into show tunes, hoping that he will be transferred into a psychiatric ward somewhere. Instead, the government brings in psychiatrist Ben Sobol (Billy Crystal). Designating Sobol's house as a "temporary" mental facility, they release Vitti into the shrink's care. Sobol is dealing with mixed emotions surrounding his father's death and is not thrilled to have his former patient moving into his home. Then again, he also feels a sense of obligation to treat the patient. It doesn't take long for Vitti to reveal that his insanity was a put-on. With the 30-day time span he has outside of prison walls, he vows to find out who wants him dead and kill them first. Sobol, naturally, is drug into things much to the dismay of wife Laura (Lisa Kudrow).

You might have read that plot description and noticed a lot of things did not make logical sense. That's because Analyze That has one of the most absurd, hard-to-swallow central concepts to come down the pike in a good long time. The premise inspires a lot of sarcastic uh-huhs and yeah, rights from the audience. The forced nature of the concept should have been enough to make everyone involved realize that the picture was not necessary. If they couldn't come up with a sound, reasonable way for Vitti and Sobol to be reunited, then they were two characters who probably never needed to meet up again. In a comedy like this, the premise is worth a lot; starting off with a weak one only gets the movie off on the wrong foot.

The original film was all about premise: it had a good idea that was executed nicely. Although somewhat broad in its comedic style, Analyze This dealt with a mobster looking to reduce his anxiety and the psychiatrist who was afraid not to treat him. There was a sense of comic danger as Sobol realized a wrong move could cause him to sleep with the fishes. His discomfort and fear were funny, in a dark sort of way. Analyze That doesn't recapture any of the comic tension. It goes in a weird, incomprehensible direction that focuses more on Vitti's attempts to prevent his own murder and, later, to rob an armored car. The therapy scenes were the center of the original; they're merely afterthoughts here. Consequently, the interaction between the characters is lost. If Sobol isn't fully invested in treating Vitti, then what exactly is the nature of their relationship? Writer/director Harold Ramis and his two co-writers never answer that question.

Somewhat surprisingly, the movie is actually kind of funny for about the first 30 minutes. Billy Crystal tends to get too sentimental in his movies, but he can still be one of the funniest guys around when he wants to. It's hard not to smile initially when you see him next to Robert DeNiro. They are the oddest couple this side of Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. For a time, it seems as though the movie is going to have a field day showing us what happens when the mobster moves in with his grieving shrink. Then that pesky plot intrudes too much and we're left with stuff we don't care about and don't understand. (I never did fully get the whole thing with the rival mob families or the attempted murder of Vitti.) The only remaining bit of cleverness is a subplot in which Vitti is hired as a creative consultant on a TV show that closely resembles "The Sopranos" - an idea that the HBO series itself exploited to greater effect a few seasons back.

I do like all the major stars here including Kudrow, who gets some chuckles out of her too-few scenes. What's missing is the center. This is clearly a movie that has been manufactured rather than created. All the same people are back, playing the same characters. There's just no reason for them to be back, except to make more money at the box office by repeating a formula. It's like a joke that is funny the first time you hear it, not so funny the second time. When all is said and done, Analyze That turns out to be the lamest, most unnecessary sequel since...well, since The Santa Clause 2, which came out last month. How depressing that Hollywood so regularly cannibalizes itself and then asks us to line up for its cinematic regurgitation.

( out of four)

Analyze That is rated R for language and some sexual content. The running time is 1 hour and 36 minutes.

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