Analyze This

Paul Vitti (Robert De Niro) is going through a mid-life crisis, and like most men his age, he’s having a tough time dealing with the stress. Under normal circumstances, Vitti would turns to a professional therapist for help. That’s the rub.

As one of New York’s two mob bosses, Vitti must maintain an image of strength. Seeing a therapist might help him overcome his stress, but to his rivals it would be a declaration of weakness that could ignite a hostile take over of his business.

The trick is to find a therapist he can see on the sly, and that’s where Ben Sobel (Billy Crystal) comes in. Sobel is a decent, hard working man with a comfortable practice in his home, a smart- as-a-whip teenage son (Kyle Sabihy) and a beautiful fiancee (Lisa Kudrow) waiting for him in Florida.

Sobel is days away from his nuptials when he accidentally rear ends the car of one of Vitti’s henchmen. Even though the mobsters are in a hurry to move along (they have a body in the trunk), one of them reluctantly takes Sobel’s card in case an insurance problem comes up later. With that fateful gesture Sobel becomes a reluctant member of Vitti’s expanded family, a premise that is ripe for comic satire.

That satire is fully realized in “Analyze This,” a hilarious comedy from director Harold Ramis, whose “Groundhog’s Day” is one of my favorite adult comedies. “Analyze This” ranks right up there, a goldmine mixture of talent in front of and behind the camera. Even though it slips a couple of notches towards the end, the rest of the film so damn funny that I was willing to forgive any flaws.

The reason “Analyze This” works as well as it does is the outstanding cast, including a hilarious De Niro sending up every Scorsese film he’s ever done, with a comic timing so precise it could cut diamonds. Who knew De Niro could be so funny? It helps that he’s playing against Billy Crystal, who basically takes the straight man role next to De Niro’s witty set-ups.

They’re a dynamic duo, and Crystal, who wallowed in the miserable “Father’s Day” with Robin Williams, totally redeems himself with an assured performance that’s never showy or gimmicky. He sets De Niro up, and then shares in the laughs with his dead pan reactions.

While the mechanics of the Peter Tolan, Ramis and Kenneth Lonergan screenplay are functionary at best, it’s the sly, witty dialogue that provides much of the needed punch.

“Analyze This” is filled with sparkling one-liners and jokes, yet the film never slips into that sitcom trap. Instead, the jokes are integrated into the flow of the dialogue and situations, allowing them to arrive without feeling predictable.

To that effect, even though you know Vitti’s presence is going to play havoc with Sobel’s wedding, you’re not quite prepared for the level of inconvenience the writers were willing to lay on the poor guy. So it comes as no surprise that not one but two wedding attempts are interrupted by Vitti, who needs to get his act together for a big meeting with all of the mob bosses.

It’s such a pleasure to watch De Niro fall apart while Crystal tries to maintain a sense of strength, even though his own life is slowly going down the drain. Lisa Kudrow, so good in last year’s “The Opposite of Sex,” is pleasant as Sobel’s flustered fiancee Laura, a former Miami television feature reporter who just wants to get married.

Unfortunately, Kudrow brings nothing new to Laura, and part of the fault lies with the writers, who have made her nothing more than a plot device. However, Kudrow’s character Phoebe on television’s “Friends” might wants to take dense lessons from Vitti henchman Jelly (Joe Viterelli).

With his sagging bull dog face and friendly yet menacing demeanor, Viterelli literally steals the film away from the two high-profile leads. A veteran of possibly every mob movie ever made, Viterelli is one of those names you wouldn’t know from Adam, but once you see him on the screen he’s as familiar as a family member.

My favorite moments in the film belong to Viterelli, who delivers some of the best dialogue with a wry sense of humor that is precious. If Viterelli doesn’t wind up as a Best Supporting Actor nominee at next year’s Oscars, then there’s no justice. It’s a delicious performance, one where you want to eat up his every word.

The mechanics of the plot demand a mob rival, and gets one in the form of Chazz Palminteri, who is okay but not very memorable. Ramis is the perfect director for “Analyze This.” His style compliments the stars and highlights the witty dialogue.

Even though the film loses it’s way towards the end (a very silly encounter with the other mob bosses that seems tacked on), Ramis manages to squeeze enough humor out of the subject to make the experience more than worth the time.

Mob comedies seem to be fashionable at the moment. “The Sopranos” is one of HBO’s best shows, while “Mafia!” and “The Godson” spoofed the genre that started it all. “Analyze This” is the Godfather of mob comedies, a film that’s as adult as it is funny. It’s refreshing to see a comedy that doesn’t deal with high school dances or teenage infatuation.

Technically, “Analyze This” is top notch. Excellent production design and cinematography make it look sharp, while the Howard Shore score punches up the action and humor. “Analyze This” is the kind of film you want to tell your friends about after you’ve seen it.

Don’t try to replicate the jokes. Just tell your friends to discover the film for themselves. They won’t be disappointed.



Robert De Niro, Billy Crystal, Lisa Kudrow, Joe Viterelli, Chazz Palminteri, Bill Macy, Leo Rossi, Kyle Sabihy, Rebecca Schull, Pat Cooper and Molly Shannon in a film directed by Harold Ramis. Rated R. 103 Minutes.


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