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'Analyze That'

Mob boss shtick is over-Analyzed

Friday, December 06, 2002

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

As one of Robert De Niro's memorable gangsters might have growled to a wisecracking wiseguy, "What are you, some kind of comedian?"

'Analyze That'

RATING: R for language and some sexual content.

STARRING: Robert De Niro, Billy Crystal, Lisa Kudrow.

DIRECTOR: Harold Ramis

WEB SITE: analyzethatmovie.


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The man who has crafted some of the most intense dramatic portrayals in movie history has been content in recent years to make fun of his image as a tough guy with just enough screws loose to be scary.

Now he is starting to repeat himself, and not just by appearing in "Analyze That," the sequel to the critically and financially successful 1999 comedy "Analyze This."

De Niro returns as mob boss Paul Vitti, who again needs help from beleaguered psychiatrist Ben Sobel (Billy Crystal). Someone is trying to kill Vitti as he nears the end of his prison term. He flips out, warbling show tunes from "West Side Story" in an oblivious state until Sobel is summoned to help him. The feds force Sobel to take custody of Vitti, much to the dismay of the shrink's wife (Lisa Kudrow).

You may be right. He may be crazy. But someone's definitely out to get Vitti. Maybe it's new mob boss Patti LoPresti (Cathy Moriarty-Gentile, who appeared with De Niro in "Raging Bull"). Maybe it's Louie "The Wrench" Rigazzi (Frank Gio), an ambitious rival.

Whatever. Or whoever. We know that by film's end Crystal's going to find himself mixed up in mob business -- a gefilte fish out of water -- and that De Niro's going to come out of a therapy session telling him, "You're good! You've got a gift!"

"Analyze That" doesn't build on its predecessor so much as rebuild it. The movie has its funny moments, most of which come early on, and director Harold Ramis keeps everything moving.

But after a while, it feels like the performers are going through the motions of doing overly familiar shtick. Ramis and Peter Tolan, who also penned the first movie, wrote the screenplay. But the difference lies in the identity of the third collaborator. Peter Steinfeld, who also wrote the dreadful "Drowning Mona," replaces Kenneth Lonergan, the inspired author of "You Can Count on Me."

The concept of a gangster seeing a shrink, which was still fresh when "Analyze This" came out, has since morphed into "The Sopranos," one of the most acclaimed television shows of the age. The first movie came out just two months after the debut of the HBO series. The new film rattles around in some much larger footsteps.

Actually, it tries to have some fun with "The Sopranos" by having Vitti get involved with a TV series focusing on a mob boss portrayed by Anthony LaPaglia. Sixteen years younger and less stocky than De Niro, LaPaglia resembles him enough to play his brother. It was an inspired stroke to cast him as the star of the fictional TV series "Little Caesar" and have him fawn over Paul Vitti, constantly asking him for acting tips.

Other amusing scenes involve Vitti trying to go straight and work a normal job, but he's just not cut out to sell cars, man the front of a restaurant or -- yeah, right -- work in a jewelry store.

But you have to wonder about De Niro's career choices, too. This is the third movie in less than two years in which he plays an unwilling participant in television's fascination with crime. "Fifteen Minutes" cast him as a detective trying to catch two murderers who videotape their crimes and become tabloid sensations. In "Showtime," he played a police officer forced to team up with media hound Eddie Murphy in a reality cop show.

Now he's taking over a faux "Sopranos." What's next, Reverend Jim in a movie version of "Taxi"? You talkin' to me, man? Far out!

Ron Weiskind can be reached at rweiskind@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.

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