-By Shirley Sealy

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When last we saw mob boss Paul Vitti (Robert De Niro) at the end of Analyze This, he was a more or less reformed gangster who had just been sent off for a long vacation at Sing Sing--much to the relief of his beleaguered psychotherapist, Ben Sobel (Billy Crystal). At the beginning of Analyze That, Vitti is still behind bars and has apparently gone bonkers. One minute he's in a catatonic stupor, the next he's grandly swishing around his padded cell belting out Broadway songs.

So, to help them make sense of Vitti's strange behavior, the FBI calls in--who else?--Dr. Sobel. Yes, they want his professional opinion, but they also want him to take the soon-to-be-sprung Vitti off their hands--and right now! Thus, Sobel is awarded full custody of the former mobster, which comes as a great surprise to Mrs. Sobel (Lisa Kudrow), who's clearly annoyed when Vitti moves into the guest room and invites a hooker in for an all-night romp. Then Vitti's bodyguard Jelly (Joe Viterelli) shows up, parking his boss' black limo in the Sobels' driveway.

The timing of this intrusion is especially bad for Ben Sobel because his dad has just died, and the doc is still 'processing' his grief. Or is it some kind of Oedipal guilt? No matter, Sobel is committed to helping Vitti go straight, and to that end, he arranges for him to get a job. First as a car salesman. Then as a maitre d'. Then as the manager of a jewelry store. Vitti invariably loses his cool and blows each job. But, finally, he finds the perfect gig--as a consultant on a 'Sopranos'-like TV crime series called 'Little Caesar' (with the title character played by Anthony LaPaglia). On the set, Vitti demands and gets his own trailer, where he gathers all his mobster pals--who fit right in, of course, because they're all straight out of central casting.

The plot of Analyze That is so loosely woven, its threads are almost lost a couple of times. One subplot has to do with a couple of rival crime families, one of which is led by an old friend of Vitti's, a blowsy blonde named Patty LoPresti (Cathy Moriarty-Gentile). Then, near the end of the film, Vitti gets Sobel involved in an elaborately staged heist which, coming out of nowhere, seems to be a desperate attempt to get the shenanigans over with. Plotwise, this sequel suffers in comparison to its predecessor.

That said, Analyze That is a pretty funny movie, with most of the humor coming, as before, from the incongruous but chemically perfect teaming of Crystal and De Niro. Unfortunately, Crystal is given only one or two good--but not really great--comic bits. (The best has him over-tranquilized and compulsively chatty while trying to eat Chinese noodles.) Otherwise, he's engaged solely as De Niro's straight man. A scene in which Dr. Sobel tests Vitti for catatonia is a classic, and very close to an old-time vaudeville routine.

De Niro is delicious. Never before has he swaggered so confidently into high comedy; never before has he had so much fun satirizing his own image as the iconic movie bad guy. But in Analyze That, De Niro goes well beyond simple satire; he gets into inspired wackiness. The film's central running gag has Vitti, the criminal mastermind, becoming Vitti, the singer of show tunes--specifically all the hit songs from 'West Side Story.' At odd moments he warbles everything from 'I Feel Pretty' to 'Tonight' to 'Maria' (as he runs with arms outstretched toward Dr. Sobel) to 'Somewhere--There's a Place for Us.' Weird? You bet, but--holy Soprano!--is it hilarious. We just have this to say to Robert De Niro: 'You…….you've got a gift.'

--Shirley Sealy

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