The new movie picks up with legendary Mob boss Paul Vitti (De Niro) nearing the end of his term in Sing Sing and Dr. Ben Sobol (Billy Crystal) dealing with the recent death of his legendary father. After a series of attempts on his life, Vitti puts on a semi-catatonic act to avoid the general prison population and save his own life. The FBI, baffled by this turn of events, brings in Sobol, his former psychiatrist, to consult on the case, ultimately releasing Vitti into Sobol's custody. Thus, the reluctant doctor is forced to once again try to mend Vitti's fractured psyche, in addition to housing him and finding him an honest job. Needless to say, this wreaks havoc with the poor doctor's already troubled personal life.
The movie's problems begin almost immediately. The whole rekindling of the relationship between Vitti and Sobol seems forced. The movie sets itself up to deal with how Vitti is going to reform himself as he is released from prison, but there seems to be no compelling reason why Crystal's character needs to be so centrally involved in the whole mess. It's illogical that he would be called on to perform the evaluation or the caretaking of Vitti upon his release from prison, nor do the filmmakers make it necessarily entertaining that he does so.
Quite frankly, Billy Crystal's character does not belong in this movie. His issues with his dead father are hackneyed and simply not funny. His conflicted take on the "grieving" process turns into an hour-long bad joke. Worse, Lisa Kudrow's role, as Sobol's wife, serves even less of a purpose. Kudrow herself may be a talented actor, but with such a tired part, her character devolves into a bitter revision of Phoebe from Friends with perpetual PMS.
After struggling through the first half of its length, the movie starts to build a little momentum when, after a series of unfunny attempts to find honest work, Vitti lands a job as the consultant to a Sopranos-esque television show, bringing his old crew along with him. The interactions between the real world mobsters and the television world mobsters, as depicted within the movie world, are the freshest parts of the film. In particular, Anthony LaPaglia makes an amusing appearance as the television show's Italian-Australian star, poking some fun at his own career as an Italian-Australian typecast in prototypical Italian-American roles.
The big heist that De Niro's character orchestrates provides some excitement and originality as the film's finale, even finding a few funny bits for Crystal, but it cannot save the film from a gruelingly slow start. Harold Ramis (most famous as Egon in Ghostbusters), who has always been a competent director, is likewise not good enough to salvage this sinking ship.
The bottom line is that these characters just don't have a story left to tell together. Maybe the movie would have proved entertaining had it left Dr. Sobol on the film's periphery, but then it wouldn't be the highly bankable sequel that it is. And as we all know, Hollywood always chooses cash over quality.
On DVD, Harold Ramis's commentary track is one of the most boring on record: "That's Riverside Church.... That's a set we built...." Adding insult to injury is one of the lamest DVD extras since the Ecks vs. Sever rock-scissors-paper game: A 10-question mafioso "trivia" quiz, featuring tongue-in-cheek answers. Awful.
Analyzed: It's junk.
Run time: 96 mins
In Theaters: Friday 6th December 2002
Box Office USA: $32.1M
Distributed by: Warner Bros.
Production compaines: Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, NPV Entertainment, Baltimore Spring Creek Pictures, Tribeca Productions
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 27%
Fresh: 40 Rotten: 108
IMDB: 5.9 / 10
Director: Harold Ramis
Starring: Robert De Niro as Paul Vitti, Billy Crystal as Dr. Ben Sobel, Lisa Kudrow as Laura Sobel, Joe Viterelli as Jelly, Cathy Moriarty as Patti LoPresti, Kyle Sabihy as Michael Sobel, Frank Pietrangolare as Tuna, Jerome Le Page as Convict
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