Robert De Niro, Billy Crystal, Lisa Kudrow, Joe Viterelli
De Niro may not single-handedly revive the movie musical, but it won't be for lack of trying. In Analyze That, the actor gets in touch with his inner Michael Crawford and belts out heartfelt renditions of West Side Story's "Tonight," "Maria" and even "I Feel Pretty." In fact De Niro's unexpected way with a lyric provides some of the better moments in That, an adequate sequel to 1999's Analyze This, as De Niro again merrily tweaks his own image as Serious Actor Guy.
This new comedy, directed and co-written by This's Harold Ramis, is yet another sign that an eco-minded Hollywood believes in recycling. If you liked the first film, you'll like this one too, because the characters and jokes are variations on those in the original. De Niro reprises his role as crime boss Paul Vitti and Crystal appears again as Ben Sobel, the mobster's jelly-kneed psychotherapist. The setup: By acting crazy (that's where the West Side warbling comes in), an imprisoned Vitti gets himself released into Sobel's custody. The shrink is none too thrilled at seeing Vitti again, particularly when he finds out that hit men are after his patient. This is not his area of expertise, Sobel protests: "I handle neurotic soccer moms and gentile alcoholics."
Like the original, That loses its bounce whenever Sobel comes to the fore. We don't want to hear his whining, and it doesn't help that Crystal is a performer who always oozes a naked need to be loved. It's De Niro, parodying himself and having a swell time doing it, that makes this formula click. Kudrow, who can give punch to even the puniest of lines, again shines as Sobel's wife, while the hefty Viterelli makes a welcome return as Jelly, Vitti's zealous bodyguard. A warning: That isn't family-friendly; the F word is pervasive, and raunchy jokes abound. (R)
BOTTOM LINE: De Niro sings, but it's the same old tune
Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Kathy Bates
Stop me before I gush. About Schmidt is about perfect. It has heart, humor and a healthy appreciation for the frailties of human nature. And Nicholson is as good as he gets, which means he's in superlative territory.
Schmidt follows one man's journey into limited self-awareness. Nicholson portrays Warren Schmidt, 66, an insurance executive in Omaha who has no idea what to do with himself once he retires. He sees a TV ad seeking sponsors for needy children overseas. Soon Schmidt is scribbling regular epistles to Ndugu, his 6-year-old "foster son" in Tanzania. The letters quickly degenerate into screeds: Schmidt writes of his spouse, "Who is this old woman living in my house?" But when his wife (June Squibb) dies unexpectedly, Schmidt, emotionally adrift, clambers aboard his 35-ft. RV and heads for Denver to persuade his adult daughter (Davis) not to marry her doofus fiancé (Dermot Mulroney).
Schmidt is about losing one's bearings, about misreading one's own life. As he did in Election, director-cowriter Alexander Payne shows his gift both for satirizing and appreciating the nation's heartland. Nicholson (see page 97), looking every one of his own 65 years, is flawless, never once coasting on his Jackness. He imbues Schmidt with just the right mixture of rage and latent regret. He, and the film, are helped mightily by cracker jack supporting work from Davis, Mulroney and, especially, Bates as Mulroney's hippy-dippy mom. (PG-13)
BOTTOM LINE: The holiday season's best treat
Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep
The folks at Merriam-Webster might want to consider putting a still from Adaptation alongside the definition of "idiosyncratic." This comedy is like no other. Is it worth seeing? You bet, but know this is a mind-bending trip.
Adaptation is a meta-movie; it's more about movies as an art form than about this specific film. The back story: Real-life screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich) was hired to adapt The Orchid Thief, author Susan Orlean's 1999 nonfiction book about a fanatical orchid grower. The reel-life result: A neurotic, procrastinating screenwriter named Charlie Kaufman (Cage) moons over a photo of Orlean (Streep) while contemplating the meaning of passion and his own inadequacies. Interspersed are scenes of Orlean becoming equally obsessed with her orchid guy (Chris Cooper, who's terrific).
Directed with sanguine flair by Spike Jonze (Malkovich), Adaptation is wacky, provocative and, ultimately, self-indulgent excess. Streep, flexing her well-developed comic muscles, is a constant pleasure. Cage, who also plays Kaufman's twin brother, pushes too hard. (R)
BOTTOM LINE: Almost too clever for its own good
Christian Bale, Taye Diggs
The Mona Lisa is set ablaze by police in the strong opening scene of this smart sci-fi thriller from first-time director-writer Kurt Wimmer. The cops, led by stalwart John Preston (Bale), have found Leonardo's masterpiece in a cache of forbidden objects, which includes books and records. Welcome to the future, where it's illegal to feel anything, including joy at viewing art.
Equilibrium is The Matrix on a smaller budget. It has nifty martial-arts sequences, a healthy distrust for authority, a distinct hard-edged look and a plot that's easier to follow than Matrix's. Once Preston becomes a "sense offender" himself (going wild by listening to Beethoven and reading Yeats), the film sustains a measure of suspense as he evades being found out by his fellow officers. Bale makes up here for the dopey Reign of Fire. Emily Watson is her ever-radiant self as a prisoner he falls for, and Diggs is smoothly menacing as a rival cop. (R)
BOTTOM LINE: A balanced thriller