Analyze This - * * *

Analyze This

Analyze This at first seems like the perfect example of a high concept comedy, able to be summarized in a mere sentence fragment: mob boss seeks therapy. But, on further analysis, the movie proves to be atypical. It’s actually funny.

Paul Vitti (Robert DeNiro) has a big problem. He’s a powerful mafia boss in New York City. Mob control of crime is beginning to wane, and the heads of all the powerful families want to meet. Paul’s bitter rival, Primo Sindone (Chazz Palminteri) would prefer that Paul sleep with the fishes, and orders a series of hits on the mob boss’ life.

But that’s not Paul’s big problem. No, his big problem is that he has stress. So much stress that he’s suffering from panic attacks, and severe emotional breakdowns. Things get so bad that he reluctantly decides to see a shrink: one Dr. Ben Sobol (Billy Crystal).

Dr. Sobol doesn’t particularly relish the idea of having an infamous criminal as a client. But a few kidnappings here, and a little harmless torture there, and suddenly Paul Vitti is his favorite patient, or at least his most persistent one. When Paul needs therapy, Ben is expected to deliver…any time, anywhere. Even Ben’s pending wedding to newswoman Laura MacNamara (Lisa Kudrow) isn’t a worthwhile excuse.

Analyze This is based on a gimmicky formula…but if there’s a director who knows how to take a comedy based on a gimmicky formula and make it work, it’s Harold Ramis (director of Caddyshack and Groundhog Day). Under his easy, guiding hand, the film is able to weather a few predictable scenes, and actually locates humor in unexpected places.

The key to the entire film is Robert DeNiro. He has played every variation of mobster known to film…but who knew he had such comic potential? His Paul Vitti is not only believable as a mafia boss, but is played with perfect deadpan comic precision.

Billy Crystal finally breaks his unlucky streak of smarmy roles. He subdues his typical schtick, and delivers a stronger character because of it. He may be playing the straight man to DeNiro’s more vibrant don, but he never allows himself to become overshadowed, having many humorous scenes of his very own.

The supporting cast can’t quite live up to the film’s two leads. Lisa Kudrow, so wonderful in last year’s The Opposite of Sex is woefully misused here. As is Chazz Palminteri, who barely registers on screen as the movie’s villain (relatively speaking). Only Joe Viterelli, as Jelly, Vitti’s loyal, but self-admittedly stupid henchman, makes a lasting impression.

Excellent comic performances by the two leads, and a steady hand of direction are able to overcome the film’s few weaknesses. The comedy of Analyze This is occassionally predictable, but always funny.

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