Grade: C-

Robert De Niro may be one of the best dramatic actors we have, but of late he’s been more successful in comic mode. While “Ronin,” “Flawless,” “Men of Honor,” “Fifteen Minutes,” “The Score” and “City by the Sea” represented an unbroken string of failures, “Analyze This” and “Meet the Parents” kept some luster on his star, even in the face of comedy misfires like “Rocky and Bullwinkle” and “Showtime.” So it’s not surprising that he should, in Hitchcock’s phrase, run for cover in sequels to his farcical hits–a followup to “Parents” is in the works, and here he reprises his turn as a mobster with a therapist from “Analyze This.”

Unhappily, in this case at least, the bloom is definitely off the rose. “Analyze That” gives De Niro the opportunity to resurrect his tough-guy mob boss Paul Vitti, and he seizes on every line and grimace, but his unbridled exuberance–overkill, some might call it–isn’t enough to keep the picture from being a tired, unnecessary retread. Even the welcome reappearance of Joe Viterelli as Vitti’s loyal sidekick Jelly doesn’t tip the balance in its favor. The reasons are basically three. First, and most important, the script by Peter Steinfeld, Harold Ramis and Peter Tolan is a haphazard collection of gags that never catches fire and lacks a consistent tone. Second, Billy Crystal’s nervous shtick is even more irritating than it was in the initial installment. And third, Ramis’ direction is flaccid and halting.

The picture gets off on the wrong foot by having an incarcerated Vitti targeted for killing by some unnamed rival, and apparently going bonkers in response. This takes the form of Vitti’s prancing about while doing a medley of songs from “West Side Story”–the sort of surrealistic bit that probably seemed hysterical in scripting sessions but in the realization proves embarrassing to the unfortunate De Niro and excruciating for the audience. The plot then segues into the release of Vitti into the custody of the reluctant Dr. Sobel (Crystal) and his now-wife Laura (Lisa Kudrow, utterly wasted), who’s understandably averse to having a foul-mouthed, lecherous gangster as a guest in her home–especially when he’s also being shot at. From here the plot spins in two different directions, with Vitti maneuvering his way through mob maze to discover who’s after him and plotting their downfall, and simultaneously taking a job as consultant on a “Sopranos”-style TV show; Sobol, suffering the emotional effects of his father’s recent death, meanwhile hangs on for the ride while trying to maintain a degree of control over his patient. There’s some wayward promise in these various script contrivances, but almost all of it is left unfulfilled. All the gangland business is pretty much a washout, because apart from Vitti and Jelly the mob figures are thoroughly dull and nondescript. (Both bosses, one played by Cathy Moriarity-Gentile and the other by Frank Gio, are colorless caricatures). The television stuff, on the other hand, could have developed into some amusing satire (especially since the original “Analyze This” appeared almost contemporaneously with “The Sopranos” and was unfavorably compared to it), but what we get instead are insipid, obvious jibes, featuring an eager-to-learn Australian star (Anthony LaPaglia, good-natured but with little to do), and a typical prissy director (Reg Rogers). To see how much better this sort of gag might have been handled, check out what Marlon Brando, Matthew Broderick and Paul Benedict did with similar material in Andrew Bergman’s “The Freshman” (1990). There’s also a twist heist ending, involving an armored car filled with gold bullion, that goes completely off the rails.

Throughout De Niro performs as though he were playing to the second balcony–no subtlety here- -and Crystal is no better, flailing about as if he were doing Borscht Belt standup. (A scene in which he overmedicates himself and slurs his words at a restaurant is at “Three Stooges” level, and one begins to dread Sobol’s next mention of grieving being a process.) Viterelli’s hangdog countenance is always good for a smile, but he’s provided with very few good lines this time around. The rest of the cast is either forgettable or should wish that they could be.

Technically the picture is completely undistinguished, with the flat-footed character of Ramis’ direction exacerbated by Andrew Mondshein’s pedestrian editing and Ellen Kuras’ unimaginative cinematography. David Holmes’ generic score adds little to the mix. In sum, “Analyze That” is the sort of sequel that’s incapable even of recapturing the very modest virtues of its predecessor. It’s a stale copy of a picture that wasn’t all that great to begin with, so tepid that the out-takes during the final credits, of the stars cracking up during filming, may just be more amusing than anything that’s gone before.