On Screen

'Analyze That': In Need of Therapy

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 6, 2002

THE BEST thing about "Analyze That" is the title.

It's the obvious and amusing choice for any movie to follow "Analyze This," the funny, charming comedy of 1999 that starred Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal.

Beyond that, there's nothing positive to say. "That" is so dull and awful, you actually wonder if this is some kind of Andy Kaufmanesque in-joke, a deliberate attempt to douse the spark that made the original film so enjoyable.

Sadly, the truth is far less interesting and far more familiar. This is a business-as-usual slump, a corporate venture devoid of excitement and simply put into production for its recognition factor and, I assume, the video rental grosses.

Ben Sobel (Crystal), a shrink, is grieving because he just lost his father. At the service, Ben's cell phone rings. (Right in the middle of the funeral. Couldn't you just die?) It's his old pal Paul Vitti (De Niro), the mobster who came to him for all that therapy and gangster action in the last movie.

Paul's in the slammer these days, freaking out because someone's trying to kill him. When Ben doesn't take the call, Paul goes to Plan B.

He fakes a psychotic attack so he can lure Ben. Paul wants out before he's iced. Seems there's a free-for-all out there in mobsterland, with several players maneuvering for top-dog spot. Everyone's got a reason to get rid of Paul.

As far as the plot goes, that's about as understandable and coherent as things get. From here on, the patchwork script (by three credited writers and who knows how many uncredited re-writers) seems to have been made up each morning – maybe an hour before the actors came on set.

The movie's idea of hilarious is for Ben to repeat "I'm grieving, it's a process" throughout the movie. It's not funny the first time, or the second, third or fourth. The one who should be grieving is Lisa Kudrow, who plays Ben's wife, Laura. A great comedian – one little twitch of that expressive face can reduce anyone to hysterics – she's third fiddle in a bad comedy. No wonder her character seems exceptionally distressed.

Without much of a narrative, the movie simply follows the central element: the wacky (or would-be wacky) relationship between Paul and Ben, as the shrink tries to get legitimate work for Paul (including being a consultant for a gangster TV series), then helps him fight off the gangsters trying to kill him.

One of those gangsters is played by Cathy Moriarty, who, some may remember, starred with De Niro in the 1988 "Raging Bull."

In that Martin Scorsese classic, De Niro played heavyweight boxer Jake LaMotta. Moriarty played his long-suffering wife, Vickie. There was stunning electricity between them, then. Which makes it all the more depressing to watch those two performers limp and struggle their way through scenes together, like blinded, aging bears. Well, that was then. It's too bad the filmmakers thought "That" was now.

ANALYZE THAT (R, 95 minutes)Contains sexual content, violence and obscenity. Area theaters.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company