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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 Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

There may still be some people out there who think that you've got to be crazy to see a psychiatrist. Not so long ago a guy named Eagleburger was dropped from the vice presidential ticket because he had visited a shrink. But anyone with a semblance of education knows that we all have problems and that people who seek help are probably the most stable of us all. No wonder, then, that convicted killers talk out their feelings only on the day they are to be executed. You'd never expect a member of the Mob to go on the couch purely on his own volition, and since comedy is often dependent for laughs on unexpected occurrences that look silly (slipping on a banana peel, for example), a movie like "Analyze This" should have no problems getting laughs. When a nationally known gangster weepingly pours out his problems to a reluctant psychiatrist, the stage is set for chuckles.

"Analyze This" does get its share of chortles. With one of America's great comics, Billy Crystal, in the role of a frightened shrink who is forced to blend in with members of Organized Crime, how could it not? The trouble is that Robert De Niro, so suited for roles as sociopaths ("Taxi Driver," ""The Godfather Part II," "Mean Streets"), is about as convincing in the part of a vulnerable, whimpering mafioso as Kenneth Branagh was as a clone of Woody Allen in "Celebrity." Casting De Niro with a comic constitution makes as much sense as posting Billy Crystal as "Henry V."

The story takes off after Dr. Ben Sobel (Billy Crystal) accidentally rear-ends the car of a mafioso, Jelly (Joe Viterelli), exposing a man who is tied up in its trunk. He hands his business card to Jelly (Joe Viterelli) who, in turn, recommends that his boss, Paul Vitti (Robert De Niro), contact the psychiatrist about anxiety attacks he had experienced. Their sessions together take on comic import because the talking cure works only if the patient is educated, liberal, and open-minded--everything that Vitti is not. Alternately threatening his doctor and praising him ("You've got a gift...yes you do...YES YOU DO!"), Vitti is at first disappointed that his anxiety is not relieved in just ten minutes, but ultimately the doctor is able to use both his Freudian background and his ability to improvise to successfully turn the gangster's life around.

"Analyze This" is filled with standard psychiatrist jokes together with some insights into Freudian thinking that would sound tiresome to those who know, mind-boggling to those who do not. Take Ben Sobel's explanation of the Oedipal conflict to a baffled new patient. Guessing that Paul Vitti unconsciously wanted to kill his father and have sex with his mother, Vitti retorts incredulously, "Have you seen my mother?" Later he reports that he's afraid even to call his mom after what the doctor had told him.

The picture is anything but a rout, however, because the masterful Billy Crystal shows his mettle as a stand-up comic able to conform to romantic and other situations with his stock of surprises. He is at his best (as in "When Harry Met Sally") when reacting to the demands of those he is with. In the movie's choice scene, he is required to don a $1200 suit and blend in with a score of gangsters at a Mafia summit meeting. Watching his mentor Jelly, he proceeds to throw his arms around large and scary mobsters and kiss them on each cheek. In one such cuddle he mumbles "Easter Weekend" to a gangster--apropos of nothing. Crystal succeeds as well in holding on to his fiance Laura (Lisa Kudrow) even after Jelly has caused a disruption in their Miami marriage ceremony--while fending off threats by his patient's rival, Primo Sindone (Chazz Palminteri).

Director Harold Ramis has proved himself in working with comedy troupes that included Bill Murray, John Belushi and Gilda Radner. He is best known for directing lowbrow comedies with box office appeal, such as "Meatball," "Caddyshack," and "National Lampoon's Vacation." This time he has raised his sights a few notches, elevating his material with psychoanalytic terminology This is a dependable idea considering the top-notch comedian he is working with. A bad film featuring Crystal has not been made. See it to admire the talents of this master comedian and forget the many ways that crackerjack actor Robert De Niro is compelled to embarrass himself.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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