Is it possible that Robert De Niro has a quixotic Wellesian masterpiece up his sleeve? An epic of staggering ambition so difficult and meaningful it can only be made guerrilla-style, funded by tainted money from dispiriting movies? How else are we to account for this ignominious record: City By the Sea, Showtime, The Score, 15 Minutes, Men of Honor, Flawless, Ronin, The Fan, Sleepers, and, for the love of god, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle?
Add to that depressing litany of middling mediocrities and outright disasters Analyze That. This disgrace, a sequel to the surprise 1999 hit, Analyze This, is a rote stomp through tired ground—in other words, a typical Hollywood sequel. Clearly nothing more than a quick paycheck for the principals, the movie is so inept and inconsequential, I have doubts that even Anthony Lane can salvage any glee from it.
The domestication of La Cosa Nostra continues. Reducing mobsters to cuddly caricature, Analyze This became a hit the year The Sopranos burst onto the scene. Whereas the latter humanized shadowy men, the former was content to demystify them via broad lampoonery. Written by the estimable Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count on Me), Analyze This was actually an agreeably funny mainstream comedy, doing as much as humanly possible with a one-joke premise.
Almost everyone important from the original is back for the triumphal second helping at the box office trough—everyone but Lonergan, that is. Truth be told, even his snappy scribing may not have made much of a difference. Up against Harold Ramis’s sitcom-level direction, the lazy performances, the painfully contrived plotting, the stale premise and just the pointlessness of it all, mere wit may not have survived.
The sequel finds mobster Paul Vitti (De Niro) holding sway over the denizens of Sing Sing. Vitti soon becomes the target of a couple of attempted whackings. The hits seem to drive the ex-boss mad, giving us the spectacle of De Niro swinging back and forth between Awakenings-style catatonia and dignity-killing musical numbers from West Side Story.
Enter his good old friend and shrink Dr. Ben Sobel (Billy Crystal). Still grieving over the recent death of his father (“It’s a process,” he explains to everyone, an obvious bit of psychobabble send-up), Sobel becomes entrusted by the FBI with custody of Vitti, for the perfectly logical reason that the sequel must happen. The good doctor tries to help Vitti leave behind the wiseguy lifestyle, but, as is always the case, it keeps pulling him back in.
The movie never strays far from the franchise formula. Most of the gags are predicated on the incongruity of a made man doing mundane things. Conceptually tired, the jokes flounder in execution as well. Smitten by the authentically street Vitti, a producer (Reg Rogers, hands down the most irritating performance of the year) hires him to be a consultant on the set. I suppose I could launch into a disquisition on the film’s self-reflexivity and the commodification of the Mafia in American pop culture. However, seeing that the filmmakers didn’t even bother thinking about it, I see no reason why I have to waste time doing so myself.
In production notes for the movie, Ramis talked about holding out for a valid idea and screenplay because “there’s nothing worse than doing a sequel just to exploit a franchise,” all said presumably with a straight face. The slapdash construction, the brainless technique, the uninspired hamming blow his cover, showing just how little the players thought of the project—and how little the filmmakers thought of its audience. (In the now ubiquitous outtakes sequence over the closing credits, De Niro makes a telling mistake. After a botched exchange with Crystal, someone yells out the correct line, which De Niro promptly acts out—only it’s not his line, but Crystal’s.)
The movie painfully goes through the motions of a narrative feature film, and having to sit there and take it occasions some profound metaphysical questions: What am I doing here? Is this movie for real? Can they still call it a comedy if no one laughs? To endure Analyze That requires not just suspension of disbelief, but suspension of neurological activity as well. A true affront to intelligence, the movie is such a wasteland of art and mirth that one has time to keep track of its meager achievements: three laughs (none big), four chuckles, three grins. Ramis was right on one thing: there’s nothing worse.