When familiar television figures hit the big screen, such as in the Addams Family movie series, filmmakers tend to pull out an old comic trick. The characters are wrenched from their usual routines and environment by some catastrophe, and then wander incongruously through a real world looking for gainful employment.
This plot move occurs in Analyze That, the second instalment in a series that is already starting to resemble a television situation comedy.
Paul (Robert De Niro) scams his way out of a prison sentence by acting crazy, thus forcing the penal system to place him under the reluctant personal supervision of his former psychiatrist, Ben (Billy Crystal).
Paul tries his hand at various jobs, including car salesman and restaurateur, where his strong arm skills quickly lead to retrenchment. Only as a consultant on a glossy television series directed by the pretentious Raoul (Reg Rogers) and starring an Aussie actor (played with exaggeration by Anthony LaPaglia) does Paul flourish.
Analyze That, directed and co-written by Harold Ramis, grapples with a burden of self-consciousness, especially with the success of The Sopranos so close to it in time. Ramis is more at ease when he can gesture further back, for example to De Niro's roles for Martin Scorsese – touchingly reteaming the star with his Raging Bull (1980) partner, Cathy Moriarty-Gentile – or, in an elaborate running gag with a great pay-off, to the pop-criminality of West Side Story (1961).
What was not especially well integrated in Analyze This (1999) remain as loose ends here, particularly Ben's troubled domestic relationships with whining wife Laura (Lisa Kudrow) and vaguely delinquent son Michael (Kyle Sabihy). Instead of fixing these, Ramis includes not one but two reprises of the "you're good" routine from the original.
Like many contemporary action-comedies, Analyze That hits shaky territory once it tries to drop the tone of pastiche and contrive a genuinely serious character arc for its heroes, namely Ben's unfinished business with his late father and Paul's need to return to his childhood dreams.
But mostly the film works as light, ephemeral entertainment. The Crystal-De Niro chemistry is a curious phenomenon, but the two stars complement each other well. Crystal's largely verbal skills are compensated for by De Niro's physicality, while the brute, generic actions of Paul's character are spiced by Ben's neurotic, often well-scripted patter.
© Adrian Martin January 2003