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Review: 'Analyze' not all 'That'

Movie pale shadow of original

By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer

De Niro, Crystal
Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal reprise their roles as a mobster and his shrink in "Analyze That."

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(CNN) -- The old saying that sequels rarely live up to the originals has become a cliche. But there's often a lot of truth to cliches.

There are more egregious examples than "Analyze That," the sequel to "Analyze This," but ultimately the premise is too thin to support two films.

In the original, Billy Crystal and Robert De Niro were hilarious as a neurotic psychotherapist and the insecure mob boss seeking treatments for panic attacks. Everyone involved in that first project -- from the two stars to the writer Peter Tolan and writer-director Harold Ramis -- all swore they wouldn't do a sequel just for the sake of doing it.

Well, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Stir crazy

The film's in trouble right from the get-go due to a decidedly half-baked setup. Paul Vitti (De Niro) is serving time in Sing Sing, where he's on the verge of a nervous breakdown due to threats against his life. Meanwhile, on the outside, his former shrink, Dr. Ben Sobol (Crystal), is having an identity crisis brought on by the death of his overbearing father.

But when Vitti suddenly begins to burst into songs from "West Side Story" -- De Niro singing "I Feel Pretty" while in solitary confinement sounds a whole lot funnier than it really is -- Sobol is forced ( Why? Who knows?) to intervene. For reasons beyond the power of logic, the FBI and the prison authorities decide the only solution is to release Vitti into Sobol's custody.

Kudrow and Crystal
Lisa Kudrow, playing the Crystal character's wife, is underutilized, says Paul Clinton.

Of course, Vitti is faking his mental collapse. Unfortunately, once credibility has been stretched to the limits by this bogus, mind-blowing release from the slammer, the storyline hits a brick wall. It's as if the filmmakers expended so much energy on the ridiculous first 20 minutes of the film they ran out of ideas what to do with the main characters once they head back to Sobol's house, where they meet with the good doctor's less-than-welcoming wife, Laura, once again played by an underutilized Lisa Kudrow.

The first piece of business is finding Vitti gainful employment. His initial effort is mildly amusing as a used-car salesman who tries to close a deal by pointing out that the trunk of a particular car is big enough to fit three bodies comfortably. This minor yuck is followed by a series of increasingly non-funny scenes as a hapless maitre d'.

He finally finds work as a consultant on a TV series about -- what else -- a mobster. At this point, Anthony LaPaglia makes a mildly amusing, non-credited appearance as the show's leading character.

Things look up for a moment when Cathy Moriarty-Gentile makes her appearance as Patty LoPresti, a mob widow who has taken over as the new head of the Vitti crime family while Paul was in the big house. This is the first time De Niro and Moriarty have been on screen together since "Raging Bull" 22 years ago, but don't get your hopes up. Their scenes together are as flat as last night's champagne.

Caught in the muddle

De Niro, Moriarty
De Niro is teamed with Cathy Moriarty for the first time since 1980's "Raging Bull."

A rival gang is now trying to take over the Vitti family's turf, LoPresti is trying to protect her territory, the Feds are all over everybody, Crystal's character is running around in circles with his wife in close pursuit, and somehow in the middle of all this Paul is planning a bank job.

If you're still paying attention -- or even still in your seat -- things are so muddled by this time that the only thing that you can possibly hope for is a gigantic St. Valentine's massacre. Unfortunately it doesn't happen and the film continues to limp along toward its lackluster conclusion.

De Niro once again seems to be having a grand old time sending up his tough-guy image, and Crystal looks like he's having a ball mugging along with the master. Unfortunately the result is just a bunch of one-liners strung together, of which some work and some don't. The actual story never gets off the ground.

De Niro and Crystal are capable of being a great comedic team, but just like any other actors they're only as good as the script -- and this one is decidedly underwelming.

"Analyze That" opens nationwide on Friday and is rated R.

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