'Analyze That': Crystal cash cow doesn't look so mahvelous

OK, let's take a quick little survey here: Who among us was clamoring for a sequel to "Analyze This," the pleasant but not especially notable 1999 comedy featuring Robert De Niro as a neurotic mobster and Billy Crystal as his timid shrink? Anyone?

Most of us, I think, enjoyed our 100 minutes or so with Paul Vitti and Ben Sobel, but could have lived out our lives quite happily without ever seeing these characters again. Nonetheless, here comes "Analyze That" for the holidays, like those Christmas cards that keep arriving from people you barely remember, and while the movie's not dreadful, it's predictable and mostly listless. And it wastes the talents of many people who deserve better.

Director Harold Ramis, let us remember, made one of the great American comedies of recent decades with "Groundhog Day." Here, he gives us Robert De Niro grabbing his crotch, or warbling selections from "West Side Story." Not that this is without charm (the songs, that is, not the crotch), but it feels random and flat — it's humor stemming from desperation, rather than character and situation.

Ramis can't seem to find a rhythm that works in "Analyze That"; the movie veers from ultra-black comedy (we're supposed to laugh when someone gets hurt or killed) to gentle realism to tired shtick, never feeling quite comfortable anywhere.

Crystal is likable as always as Sobel, the shrink who's given custody of Vitti after the mobster's been sprung from jail, but he's not doing anything new. (Hearing him sing, though, brought back pleasant memories of his Oscar-night medleys. Billy, please, come back to the Oscars and don't make any more sequels. If you're thinking at all of catching up with Harry and Sally in middle age — stop, now, before it's too late.)

De Niro twists up his face and mugs for the back rows, doing his best to make us forget what a brilliant actor he can be when he's fully engaged. And poor Lisa Kudrow, who's got comic timing to rival anyone on screen today, is given absolutely nothing to do but express wifely exasperation, and she soon disappears from the movie entirely. Off negotiating with her agent, I hope.

Much of the zip in "Analyze That" comes from its supporting players: moon-faced Joe Viterelli as the hulking mobster Jelly; Cathy Moriarty-Gentile as a Mafia mama, bellowing in a voice that suggests crumpled sandpaper; and an unbilled Anthony LaPaglia, playing a suave Australian actor playing a TV mobster (and turning in a nifty little imitation of De Niro).

But they can't quite save the movie's fundamental lack of energy — it's a cash cow (the original "Analyze This" took in more than $100 million domestically) rather than a labor of love, and it just feels unnecessary.

To keep alert during the slower bits of "Analyze That" (and there are many, particularly in the second half), imagine the movie that this cast and director could have made. And then hope that, someday, they make it.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

Movie review

"Analyze That," with Robert De Niro, Billy Crystal, Lisa Kudrow, Joe Viterelli, Cathy Moriarty-Gentile. Directed by Harold Ramis, from a screenplay by Peter Steinfeld, Ramis and Peter Tolan 95 minutes. Rated R for language and some sexual content. Several theaters.