Second rate viewing
WHY do sequels to good comedies so rarely come off? Is it because the filmmakers, instead of sticking to a successful formula, want to try something different, and Instead of rehashing well-tested jokes (with variations, of course) they want their characters to ‘‘ develop’’ and move on? It’s a common trap, and one Harold Ramis would know about. In Analyse This (Sunday, 6.30pm, Starpics), Ramis made one of the smartest comedies of the 90s, with a sparkling script and two charismatic actors in top form.
Robert De Niro played Paul Vitti, a New York mobster who is going soft — blubbering over baby animals on TV and sparing rival gangsters who deserve to be whacked. Anxious colleagues refer him to an uptight psychiatrist (Billy Crystal), who is inevitably drawn into Vitti’s criminal world, even saving the gangster’s life during a shootout.
Ramis’s sequel, Analyse That (Sunday, 8.30pm, Starpics), is cruder and more sentimental, signalling a darker mood from the opening credits. One of the pleasures of the original was its gentle send-up of the psychiatric profession, which Crystal seemed to relish. It would have been a good joke in Analyse That if De Niro had started spouting the kind of psychobabble used by some of Crystal’s patients (‘‘I needed room to define myself as a person, to get in touch with my uniqueness’’). Instead we a get a car chase, orgasm jokes, a bullion robbery and an embarrassingly lame performance from Anthony Lapaglia as an actor with an Aussie accent. I’d see the first film.
Last year’s intriguing sci-fi adventure The Adjustment Bureau (Sunday, 8.30pm, Showtime Premiere) belongs in the category of good ideas that don’t quite come off. Matt Damon plays a New York politician who falls in love with a dancer (Emily Blunt). But their romance doesn’t accord with a grand plan for the universe devised by unseen Higher Powers and enforced here below by a bunch of fedora-topped characters called the Adjustment Bureau, whose job is to step in whenever the ordained course of fate looks like going off the rails.
Directed by George Nolfi, it’s based on a story by Philip K. Dick, whose ideas were often more subtle and ingenious than the many films they inspired. I would have liked a more penetrating look at the nature of free will and the workings of destiny (Powell and Pressburger’s glorious fantasy A Matter of Life and Death shows how to do it). Damon and Blunt work hard, but the film falls short of its good intentions. There’s a feast this week for Pedro Almodovar cult followers, beginning on Tuesday with Volver (11am, World Movies), a supernatural melodrama starring Penelope Cruz, in which (among other things) a mother’s ghost returns from the grave to sort out some family issues. (As with all Almodovar plots, it’s necessary to oversimplify, and as with all Almodovar films, there are constant visual delights.) Live Flesh (Tuesday, 8.30pm, World Movies) negotiates the many twists of a Ruth Rendell mystery to deliver a story of revenge mixed with pathos and humour. All About My Mother (Thursday, 11.55am, World Movies) includes among its characters a promiscuous transvestite, a transgendered prostitute and angelic Sister Rosa (Cruz again), whose mission is to minister to unhappy streetwalkers.
In Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Thursday, 8.30pm, World Movies), one of the director’s early successes, Antonio Banderos stars in a madcap affair full of poignant misunderstandings, buried family secrets, suicidal lovers and eccentric hangers-on. There’s enough heartache, farce and wild coincidence in your average Almodovar film to supply Hollywood screenwriters with a lifetime of ideas. Florid, melodramatic and over-the-top they may seem, but always with a rich vein of compassion and understanding.
Carmen Maura and Penelope Cruz in Pedro Almodovar’s cult classic Volver