The week after Tony Soprano fires his psychiatrist on TV, Robert De Niro's mobster Paul Vitti makes a return visit to his bigscreen shrink in "Analyze That." Clever premise and some chemistry between De Niro and Billy Crystal pushed the 1999 "Analyze This" into the winner's circle, and the novelty value is gone the second time around.

The week after Tony Soprano fires his longtime psychiatrist on TV, Robert De Niro’s mobster Paul Vitti makes an ill-advised return visit to his bigscreen shrink in “Analyze That.” Clever premise and some antic comic chemistry between De Niro and Billy Crystal pushed the 1999 “Analyze This” into the winner’s circle, and while the promise of more of the same will be enough for Warner Bros. to score another hit, the novelty value is completely gone the second time around.

Mercenary motives permeate every aspect of this lame affair, which strains to come up with an excuse for gangland kingpin Vitti to be released from prison and get stuck once again with Crystal’s milquetoasty Dr. Ben Sobel. Easy-to-please viewers will derive a few light laughs from the twosome’s new escapades, but the yocks are a far cry from what auds expect from these actors or from helmer/co-writer Harold Ramis.

Afraid of being whacked before his imminent release from Sing Sing, Vitti fakes a complete nervous breakdown that includes the New York tough guy singing a medley of tunes from “West Side Story” surrounded by dozens of cons in the prison cafeteria. Whether the actor is just pretending not to be able to sing or De Niro’s voice really is this bad, what emanates from his pipes is so ghastly that you don’t blame the authorities for wanting to get him out of earshot at the earliest possible opportunity.

In perhaps the most unconvincing scene of the year, the FBI places Vitti in the custody of Sobel, who is assigned to keep the hoodlum “sane, sober and gainfully employed” for a month, and whose house thus becomes a “temporary federal institution.” On second thought, perhaps more unconvincing are the jobs Vitti gets, including those as a Manhattan Audi dealer, a greeter at a swank Gotham eatery and a jewelry salesman.

When these fail, Vitti is hired as an “expert” consultant on a Mafia TV series, “Little Caesar,” that he finds patently phony. As Vitti weighs in on the authenticity of the show’s dialogue (he cuts it all) and proceeds to bring in some of his old “associates” to lend a little reality to the background players, pic veers precariously into the same territory so insipidly covered earlier this year in Warner Bros.’ “Showtime,” in which De Niro played a cop drafted into service on a reality cop show. (Both films run 95 minutes and present evidence, via extensive end-credits crackups, that the stars had a lot more fun making the pics than auds can extract viewing them.)

Providing what passes for dramatic conflict is a rivalry between mob families run by Patty LoPresti (Cathy Moriarty-Gentile), who’s taken over Vitti’s operation since he went to prison, and the threatening Lou “The Wrench” Rigazzi (Frank Gio). The anxiety Vitti suffered in the first outing is transferred here to the long-suffering Sobel, who has just lost his father, is harangued by his wife (Lisa Kudrow, back to diminished returns) for returning Vitti to their lives, and constantly pops pills that cause muscle-control problems, prompting a sloppy eating scene in a sushi restaurant that early adolescents would find funny if they could get into this R-rated feature.

All in all, the hijinx in the movie are just as contrived and silly as those in the TV show-within-the-film. No one can hide the fact that they’re basically punching a very lucrative clock, which makes for a fairly dispiriting experience. Performances are all broad, and tech contributions average.

Analyze That

Production

A Warner Bros. release presented in association with Village Roadshow Pictures and NPV Entertainment of a Baltimore Spring Creek Pictures, Face/Tribeca production. Produced by Paula Weinstein, Jane Rosenthal. Executive producers, Billy Crystal, Barry Levinson, Chris Brigham, Len Amato, Bruce Berman. Co-producer, Suzanne Herrington. Directed by Harold Ramis. Screenplay, Peter Steinfeld, Ramis, Peter Tolan, based on characters created by Kenneth Lonergan, Tolan.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor), Ellen Kuras; editor, Andrew Mondshein; music, David Holmes; production designer, Wynn Thomas; art director, Adam Matthew Scher; set decorator, Beth Rubino; costume designer, Aude Bronson-Howard; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS/SDDS), Thomas Nelson; supervising sound editor, Paul P. Soucek; associate producer, Laurel Ward; assistant director, Joseph Reidy; second unit director, Doug R. Coleman; second unit camera, David M. Dunlap; casting, Ellen Chenoweth. Reviewed at Warner Bros. Studios, Burbank, Nov. 25, 2002. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 95 MIN.

With

Paul Vitti - Robert De Niro Ben Sobel - Billy Crystal Laura Sobel - Lisa Kudrow Jelly - Joe Viterelli Raoul Berman - Reg Rogers Patti LoPresti - Cathy Moriarty-Gentile Richard Chapin - John Finn Michael Sobel - Kyle Sabihy Agent Cerrone - Callie Thorne Masiello - Pat Cooper Lou Rigazzi - Frank Gio Sheila - Donnamarie Recco
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