There’s a sequence in Analyze That that was born to be a laugh riot, and the fact that it’s not tells you how used-up the filmmakers must feel. Paul Vitti, the high-anxiety Mob boss played by Robert De Niro (who grimaces so much that he’s starting to look like the mask of tragedy), has just been released from Sing Sing into the custody of his psychotherapist, Ben Sobel (Billy Crystal). The shrink tries to get him to go legit, and the movie presents Vitti in a series of ordinary, and therefore demeaning, jobs. There’s a good bit in which he’s a luxury-car salesman abusing picky customers, who demand to see the boss (”Here’s the boss!” he yells, grabbing his crotch). Then he’s a maître d’ giving special attention to his Mob pals (not funny), then a jewelry salesman who lies about a diamond (really not funny). The whole Vitti-goes-straight gag goes straight into the toilet.
Watching ”Analyze That,” it doesn’t take long to get the sinking sensation that you’re seeing a shadow of a former joke. The De Niro-Crystal comedy team is no longer even tethered to the notion that Vitti needs therapy. The two are just stereotyped buddy oddballs — the movie might as well have been called ”The Goombah and the Jewish Guy.” ”Analyze That” has little of the snap and verve of ”Analyze This,” yet I think I have a clue as to why Harold Ramis directed this comedy of violence as if he were in traction. When the first film came out, its conceptual overlap with ”The Sopranos” could be passed off as a coincidence. But four seasons of the visionary HBO Mafia psychodrama have made Paul Vitti look like even more of an old-school linguini-with-blood-sauce cliché. When he’s hired to ”advise” a TV show about a mobster, the flat-witted setup, with its unfortunate echo of the De Niro-Eddie Murphy ”Showtime,” expresses nothing so much as fear and envy of ”The Sopranos.” It’s not just that Tony Soprano is richer, darker, cooler, and scarier. The dude gets more laughs.