Analyze This (United States, 1999)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The greatest asset evidenced by Harold Ramis' gangster comedy, Analyze This, is that it doesn't try too hard for laughs. Instead of force-feeding audiences stale, predictable jokes about mobsters and mayhem, Ramis is content to let the humor evolve naturally out of the situations postulated by the script and the performances of lead actors Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal. The resulting movie, while not consistently uproarious, is frequently funny and occasionally hilarious.

Ramis' scores a coup by getting De Niro to parody his on-screen image. Not since Marlon Brando did something similar (in a much smaller part) in The Freshman has an actor used his tough guy persona to such good effect. De Niro plays it almost straight as mob boss Paul Vitti. He reacts with predictable belligerence to every situation, complete with an out-thrust jaw and a dangerous scowl. The difference between this film and Goodfellas (or any other serious endeavor) is that the situations faced by De Niro's character here are patently absurd, and his deadpan response works perfectly to enhance the comic tone.

De Niro is the straight man to Billy Crystal's Ben Sobel, a psychiatrist who has unwittingly become a name on Vitti's payroll. Crystal, whose movie career has included hits like When Harry Met Sally and City Slickers and misses like Fathers' Day and My Giant, finds the right tone for Sobel early in the proceedings - he's a witty individual, but he doesn't go overboard. Crystal manages to be funny without destroying the integrity of his character - a crucial achievement for the movie to work on any level.

Vitti is not a "happy, well-adjusted gangster." Once, he was able to kill and brutalize without compunction, but now the day-to-day activities of a made guy are wearing him down. He's suffering from panic attacks, and, from time-to-time, sentimental TV commercials cause him to break down and cry. If he's going to survive in a world where the appearance of machismo is everything, he has to banish his weakness through the most expedient manner possible - therapy. And it has to be done before his chief nemesis, Sindone (Chazz Palminteri), finds out. Because Sobel had the misfortune of giving his business card to Vitti's stooge, Jelly (Joe Viterelli), he becomes the mobster's first candidate. Soon, like it or not, Sobel is on call - even if it means interrupting his wedding to a pretty Florida news reporter (Lisa Kudrow).

Analyze This is not a great comedy, but it offers a fairly good time by poking fun at mobsters and psychiatrists. Both Freud and The Godfather take a pounding, but the best-conceived comic sequence comes near the end, when Crystal's Sobel is placed in a situation where he has to impersonate a Mafioso, and finds that he can't even pronounce "consigliere." The film contains several other memorable moments, such as Vitti's reaction to Merrill Lynch TV spot and a fender bender that causes a couple of gangsters a few anxious moments.

In keeping with the decision to cast De Niro as the top gangster, the film makers were careful to choose a group of tough looking actors for supporting roles. Joe Viterelli is Vitti's right hand man, the kind of guy who helps others sleep with the fishes. Richard C. Castellano plays Vitti's other bodyguard. And Chazz Palminteri, the likable boss from De Niro's directorial debut, A Bronx Tale, fills out the tough guy roster. Lisa Kudrow has an inconsequential part as Laura, the psychiatrist's intended bride.

Harold Ramis, the director of Groundhog Day and co-writer of Ghostbusters, knows a thing or two about comic timing, and his skill in this arena is in evidence here. The basic storyline is pretty much a throwaway; what makes Analyze This work is the interplay between the actors and the manner in which comic vignettes are incorporated into the plot. For those who have grown weary of lame gangster parodies like Mafia!, Analyze This offers a more intelligent, better conceived alternative.

Analyze This (United States, 1999)

Run Time: 1:45
U.S. Release Date: 1999-03-05
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Violence, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1