Self-destructive cinema

Billy Crystal plays Michael Jackson’s infant son in<i> My Dad’s a Dickhead</i>.

Billy Crystal plays Michael Jackson’s infant son in My Dad’s a Dickhead.

Robert De Niro, Billy Crystal and the rest of that lovable, affable Mafia gang return for another whack at bad comedy with Analyze That, a sequel to 1999’s flimsy Analyze This. With this installment, a joke that became old by the end of the first film gets beaten to death, has its head cut off, is weighted down with rocks, and is tossed into the river.

As with the first film, the “Let’s all poke fun at that silly Mafia!” joke is funny for the first 15 minutes or so, but this stuff has been done to death. The sequel starts straining for laughs a few minutes in, a true indicator that Mafia humor just isn’t that funny anymore.

The movie picks up a few years after the last film, with De Niro’s mob boss, Paul Vitti, doing time in a New York prison. When he suspects that somebody’s trying to kill him, he feigns insanity by constantly singing West Side Story tunes. The sight of De Niro dancing on a prison cafeteria table shouting, “When You’re a Jet!” is good for a laugh. The sight of him singing, “I Feel Pretty” is actually good for something close to a guffaw. In the case of this film, it will be the one, very lonely guffaw.

After another amusing sequence, during which De Niro’s Vitti convinces a group of experts he’s crazy, Vitti is released into the protective custody of psychiatrist Dr. Ben Sobel (Crystal), and the mobster goes home to wreak some havoc. While the whole “Insane Mobster” bit made for a promising start, it’s abandoned for lame subplots involving Vitti’s attempts to go straight and find decent work.

There’s little originality in scenes with De Niro trying to sell cars or work as a restaurant host; he screws things up in ways that only a true, obnoxious Mafia mobster could. The restaurant bit ends with a wise guy getting bread forcibly shoved into his face. Surprised?

In a bid to acknowledge the film’s inevitable comparison to The Sopranos, Vitti gets a job as an advisor for a TV series called Little Caesar. If there are any comedic possibilities to be mined with this scenario, Analyze That can’t find them. The extent of the joke here comes when the series’ star (Anthony LaPaglia) mimics Vitti until Vitti punches him in the face, but the series’ star believes this is Vitti’s technique of coaching him on the ways of mobster life. Try not to bust any buttons laughing at that one.

I hate to see a director like Ramis, responsible for such comedy classics as Caddyshack, Groundhog Day and Vacation, slumming with junk like this. While De Niro acquits himself to a certain degree by generating the film’s few decent laughs, Crystal’s struggle with the material grinds on the soul. It doesn’t help matters that the script takes his character in outrageous, unfunny directions. He actually qualifies as a full-blown criminal whose actions result in a body count.

For the record, I’m getting to the point where I hate any film that features Billy Crystal screaming a lot. This one has him screaming at De Niro, screaming whilst hanging from a ledge and screaming while his balls are being crushed. The guy can be funny sometimes, but he’s an annoying bastard when he squawks.

While we will probably get another season of The Sopranos, I think this will be it for Paul Vitti and his huggable band of coldhearted killers. Apart from a few likable bits by De Niro, Analyze That is a stupid bore. The Mafia was 10 times funnier in The Godfather.