The strain is palpable; not a scene, not a moment in this film is without a sense of struggle. Struggle for a laugh, struggle for a joke, a witty line, a pratfall, a double-take; and then on top of that there's a struggle to add a dimension that would give the film some human beings instead of caricatures. This is a film that desperately tries to make realistic what was an impossibly artificial creation from the beginning. This is a comedy without real fun, a comedy in which everybody tries a little too hard, is a little too self-conscious, and much too aware of fighting a script that substitutes four-letter words for wit, using them instead of jokes.
From the beginning we sense the strain. Mafia man Paul Vitti (Robert De Niro) is in Sing Sing when the film opens; he concocts a scam to get himself released into the custody of Dr. Ben Sobel (Billy Crystal, playing the same insecure psychiatrist he was in the first film), a scam so unbelievable it would be thrown out of Screenwriting 101. Paul moves into Ben's house, offends wife Laura (Lisa Kudrow, who gets to speak about a dozen lines in total here), and plots revenge on a mob boss who wants him killed. There are lots of events: Paul gets a job as consultant to a TV crime show with the Soprano-like capo played by Australian Anthony LaPaglia. There's a car chase, a gold heist, and a finale in which the principals sing Bernstein's "Somewhere" to each other.
Okay. In principle it's all there; the problem comes when we in the audience want to laugh - and we surely want to - and find that there's very little to laugh at. Director Harold Ramis keeps such a heavy hand on everything that he's squeezed the joy out of it. And the script is a mishmash of jokes, gags and confrontations that we've already seen too often elsewhere, usually when we were in sixth grade.
All of which is particularly upsetting, because these are actors more than able to handle comedy. Certainly Billy Crystal is the wittiest comic actor and has the best timing of anyone working in film today. De Niro, who attacks his role as though he were still playing Jake LaMotta, could have used that persona to make his character work here; instead he insists on hogging the screen like the proverbial 800-pound gorilla. When he does let up on the accelerator he is very funny; it just happens only a few times in this film. Joe Viterelli is back as De Niro's sidekick Jelly, but he also has little to do other than walk a step behind De Niro.
Someone must have realized that things weren't going very well, and so they appropriated Jackie Chan's gimmick of showing outtakes under the closing credits; but all we see are endlessly blown lines. Even those are funnier than the film.