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Analyze This

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Analyze This

Starring: Robert De Niro, Billy Crystal
Director: Harold Ramis
Rated: R
RunTime: 86 Minutes
Release Date: March 1999
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Lisa Kudrow, Molly Shannon

Review by Walter Frith
2½ stars out of 4

As you might expect, when you put someone who is a movie star first (Billy Crystal) and someone who is an actor first (Robert De Niro) together, there is an odd chemistry that allows both individuals to showcase their talent. Robert De Niro is a true movie legend and a rare commodity: a great actor who is also a movie star. Billy Crystal is a great movie star who can also act, but only superficially. Finding a balance in giving each other an equal opportunity to tell a story from their own point of view is a test that could have easily failed those involved with this production. And aside from being whimsically off beat, 'Analyze This' works because the strength of its leading characters carries those who choose to be slackers. It's not really their fault because they're just written that way.

Director Harold Ramis ('Multiplicity', 'Stuart Saves His Family', 'Groundhog Day') directs his latest film with more of an emphasis on the characters than on any other part of his film. The first half of this movie is uproariously funny but the second part suffers by comparison and what allows me to give this movie a marginal recommendation is that it runs a perfect length of 103 minutes.

Billy Crystal plays Dr. Ben Sobel, a divorced shrink who is about to be married. He has a teenage son and does what a lot of us do from time to time on the job: let our minds wander. He doesn't always pay full attention to his patients and one encounter makes for a funny scene as we realize that what we just saw didn't really happen, except in Crystal's mind as he would really like to tell one of his clients what to do about their silly problems. His bride to be (Lisa Kudrow) is a slightly neurotic news reporter in Florida who has just given up her job. But all is not rosy for Crystal as he is about to meet the person that will make him the most nervous, mob boss Paul Vitti (Robert De Niro). Vitti has been having a problem with his authority lately. In his line of work, authority means killing another rival, literally, so his inability to pull the trigger, combined with fits of crying, don't help his cause.

He decides to check himself in for therapy and chooses Dr. Sobel after the doctor and one of his associates have a minor traffic accident and Dr. Sobel gives one of Vitti's men his business card. A real gem of a movie from 1990 entitled 'The Freshman' with Marlon Brando showcased Brando lampooning himself from his role in 'The Godfather' and De Niro does the same thing here. Taking all of the mob parts he's played from 'The Godfather Part II', 'GoodFellas' and 'Casino', De Niro rolls them all into one bundle and puts on a dunce cap and red nose (a figure of speech, of course) and clowns around and has fun with this role. His character is always in control of his life in other ways but it's funny to see him break down and cry at the sight of sentimental television commercials. De Niro also employs many of the characters that appeared in minor roles in a lot of his gangster films and uses them here. You know, those actors whose face you know but you can't place the name because of their lack of notoriety.

As for Billy Crystal, he is excellent in this film for two reasons. First is his reaction to many funny moments such as the one where his future father in law gives away his bride to him at the wedding and politely threatens him in hilarious fashion (to the audience only) if anything happens to his "little girl" if his involvement with the mob hurts her in any way. Crystal holds his own in most of the scenes with De Niro and carries a good part of the film's climax as he's forced to sit in as a make believe "consigliere" before Vitti's arrival at a major meeting of crime bosses from all over the country. The film includes a rather small but mostly meaningful part played by Chazz Palminteri as a ruthless crime boss who wants to rule the underworld all by himself by killing off all of his hated rivals.

Ken Lonergan and Peter Tolan have fashioned an original screenplay that cooks up some really outrageous scenes that are startlingly real in their initial measures as pieces of comedy. Who's to say something this outrageous couldn't happen. The writers make the classic and near fatal mistake, however, of cramming all of the best jokes into the first hour. I would have preferred to see the film switched in tones and have many of the jokes from the first half displayed in the second because if the movie had been built up slowly rather than drop off the way it does, we might have had a truly memorable comedy instead of a film that is good when it should have been great.

Copyright 2000 Walter Frith

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