Analyze That

Analyze That (15)

In the best tradition of football matches, Analyze That is a game of two halves – a splendidly funny first hour followed by a second 60 minutes that could have been spliced in from a different film altogether.

Picking up a couple of years after the first film left off, Analyze That sees mobster Paul Vitti (Robert De Niro in the slammer where, by day at least, he rules the roost. By night, however, he skulks beneath his bunk to dodge assassins and their well-aimed bullets. The pressure is building…

So it comes as no real surprise when Vitti cracks up, imploding in spectacular style in the prison canteen when he suddenly breaks into a song and dance routine with a variety of numbers from West Side Story. With the prison authorities scratching their heads and wondering whether it’s all a put-on, they send for Vitti’s shrink, Dr Ben Sobel (Billy Crystal), to run a few tests. Sure enough, it looks like Vitti has lost his marbles, and the only solution is to send him home – to Ben’s.

Of course Ben is reluctant to take Vitti, not least because he’s even nuttier now than he ever was. “We’re talking about an IQ just north of a carpet slipper,” he says at one point.

Stateside reaction to this intermittently funny sequel has been lukewarm, but certainly the first 40 minutes of the film boasts one-liners that Woody Allen, at his early best, would have been proud of. And with the characters so well engraved into the collective audience psyche, it takes only minutes for De Niro and Crystal to slip back into the old routine of aggressive, finger-pointing dope and put-upon Jewish poppa. On that basis it works perfectly.

Much of the humour comes in watching De Niro’s hardman unravel through a series of spot-on moments, not least the various jobs he goes through as part of his reintegration into society. Try picturing Al Capone as a car salesman, jeweller or maitre d’ and you understand why De Niro, as Vitti, is so funny.

The comic chemistry between De Niro and Crystal is also tangible, with De Niro biting deep into a frequently laugh-out-loud script by no less than five writers, among them Kenneth (You Can Count on Me) Lonergan and director Harold (Ghostbusters) Ramis.

The film starts to slow and weaken as it moves into its second half, which is far more hard-edged though lightened by a telling sequence that has Vitti employed as a consultant on a TV show about the Mafia, complete with anguished star Anthony LaPaglia. However the sub-plot about a gold heist looks like a direct steal from The Hot Rock, and severely reduces the power of the comedy.

Analyze That is not the funniest film you will see this year but, viewed in increments, it really hits the funny bone hard. De Niro’s face-pulling and mugging to the camera is tremendous – what a gurner! He also has a gift for comic timing and a deadpan way of mouthing ridiculous lines, while Crystal steps into the straight man’s shoes with ease.

Star rating: ***

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