Though its hardly a new observation, Analyze That, more than any other Robert De Niro film, invites the speculation that the once-revered actor has become the gimmicky comic screenwriter's whipping boy. Who can resist the opportunity to undermine the awe-inspiring but apparently game-for-anything thespian by, say, having him sing the entire score to a Broadway musical (guess which one) or energetically mime masturbation (take that, Marcel Marceau!) or cry like a Bert Lahr impressionist. These cringe-worthy indignities and many more are foisted on Bobby D. in Analyze That, the clock-punching sequel to the hit comedy Analyze This.
Paired again with kvetchy Billy Crystal, De Niro's best acting here works to convince us that he's not aware of the tiredness of the material. The first film, though already redolent of The Sopranos with its mafia-don-chafes-against-therapst shtick, had the novelty of De Niro's comic reawakening on the screen and an easy if unlikely rapport with Crystal. Here, feel the strain as the film laboriously acknowledges The Sopranos (the story's Vitti-as-"consultant" twist feeling especially exhausted after De Niro's uninspired but non-sequel Showtime). Director Harold Ramis replays, to half the effect and with half of the crack pacing, the comic beats of the first film (screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan's name is conspicuously absent from That's credits). Here again--and less organically--we can enjoy De Niro wailing, or tilting his head, levelling his eye, and wagging his meaty digit at Crystal (his finger, that is). But isn't that why God gave us DVD?
The plot, such as it is, finds De Niro's boss Paul Vitti where we left him, in prison. But when a hit is put out on him, Vitti blows a gasket to get out from behind deadly bars. His ticket out, naturally, is Crystal's shrink Ben Sobel. To his credit, Ramis gets the maximum of mileage out of the not-so-liberally sprinkled "A" material, like a sequence in which Sobel tests De Niro to see if he's faking and a running gag of Sobel's "self-medicating." But Analyze That--with it's cute toss-off jokes during life-threatening car chases--succumbs too easily to cartoonish unreality where the first film, with Lonergan's dialogue and all-cylinders De Niro, at least teased us with the what-if credulity of a mob boss crashing into upscale suburbia. That's shticky dialogue includes gems like, "It's not that I don't trust you, it's just that I don't trust you." It's enough to make the Sopranos gags seem supremely disingenuous.
Analyze That is one of those movies that was obviously more fun to make than to watch. After attempting to pull off a perverse, post 9/11 valentine to New York in the waning moments, the film ends with a telling series of outtakes, in which Crystal, after several takes of De Niro's masturbation miming, quips, "I just wanted to see it again." Uh huh.
Part of Warner Brothers' first roll-out of Blu-ray double-features, Analyze That joins Analyze This on a single disc for the films' hi-def debut. The budget-priced disc includes none of the previously issued special features, unfortunately. The hi-def transfer of Analyze That is an improvement over the earlier DVD, but it won't win the hearts of hi-def enthusiasts. Digital artifacts are evident (most notably ringing and noise), black levels don't hold deeply, and grain is poorly resolved. The disc's value will depend on interest in the films and whether or not the purchase is a double-dip, but the mild picture upgrade and nice price will be an attractive prospect to many building their Blu-ray libraries.
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