This and that

Suge Knight-employed “thugs” dangle Vanilla Ice (Billy Crystal) off the roof of Caesar’s Palace. “Sing me the guitar solo from ‘Beat It’ or we drop you, punk.”<p></p>

Suge Knight-employed “thugs” dangle Vanilla Ice (Billy Crystal) off the roof of Caesar’s Palace. “Sing me the guitar solo from ‘Beat It’ or we drop you, punk.”

Rated 2.0

In Analyze That, Billy Crystal and Robert De Niro return as psychiatrist Ben Sobol and mobster Paul Vitti, the roles they played in 1999’s Analyze This. Unfortunately, Analyze That is a pointless sequel, made for no other reason than that the original earned $110 million. Not that it isn’t fairly enjoyable in spots, thanks mainly to the fact that Crystal and De Niro are reliable pros who can be funny (especially Crystal) almost on demand. But it’s pretty much of a mess, and the more you think about it, the worse it gets.

As the film opens, Vitti is an inmate in Sing-Sing, and he’s a marked man. With the instinct for self-preservation that has made him a successful crime lord, he sidesteps a couple of assassination attempts and then apparently cracks up, staring off into space in a padded cell—that is, when he’s not prancing around singing selections from West Side Story. Sobol, Vitti’s reluctant psychoanalyst from three years earlier, is called to Sing-Sing to examine him. Is Vitti really suffering a breakdown, or is he just faking it to get out of prison early? (Any guesses out there?) Eventually, Sobol is pressured by the FBI to take custody of the crazy capo so that he can face the parole board in six weeks, cured and gainfully employed.

None of this makes any sense at all. Only in a movie—and probably only in a desperate, money-driven sequel at that—would a notorious crime lord go home with his psychiatrist and into a succession of jobs without even a parole hearing. Didn’t it occur to the writers (Peter Steinfeld, Peter Tolan and director Harold Ramis) to start with Vitti already out of prison? Maybe not; the script appears to have been thrown together in a mad panic (the writers’ names are all linked by “and” in the credits—Writers Guild code for the fact that they didn’t work together).

The film conscientiously repeats many of the key gags and plot elements from Analyze This on the assumption that if it was funny once, it’ll be funny again. Thus, we get a replay of Sobol erupting with his true feelings, only to fake us out by showing us it was all a fantasy in his head. (In the first film, it was a therapy session with a whining Molly Shannon; here, it’s his father’s funeral.) We get another scene of sex between Vitti and his mistress (Donna-Marie Recco). The ostensibly hilarious twist is that, although he couldn’t perform in the first film, he performs to her screaming satisfaction in this one. Also, once again, the source of Vitti’s anxiety is a mob power struggle. This time, he’s caught between rival factions led by gangland widow Patti Lo Presti (Cathy Moriarty-Gentile, in an inflated cameo that gives her a couple of nice scenes with De Niro) and someone named Louie the Wrench.

One of the few new wrinkles this time is that Vitti hires himself out as technical advisor on a TV series called Little Caesar (read The Sopranos), where he has a mildly culture-shocked encounter with the series’ Australian star (Anthony LaPaglia): “There are a lot of us Italians Down Under.” Vitti: “Down under what??!!” Vitti uses this job as a cover while planning a heist of armored-car gold—another new wrinkle, and one that seems to come out of nowhere.

Lisa Kudrow is also back as Sobol’s wife, but apparently only because the producers thought it would be rude to exclude her. Having brought her along for the ride, director Ramis and his non-collaborative co-writers neglect to give her anything to do, despite the fact that she’s a comic talent every inch Crystal’s equal. Ramis and company are more successful at keeping Joe Viterelli occupied in his return engagement as Vitti’s henchman Jelly. As the closing credits roll, we are treated to (surprise!) outtakes, with Crystal, De Niro, Kudrow and Viterelli guffawing over their flubs and fumbles. This is fast becoming an obligatory cliche in movie comedies. Is it a parting shot to prove that everyone had a good time on the set? Are the filmmakers worried that perhaps the fun doesn’t come through in the movie itself?