Analyze This

When Robert De Niro has a good time (which isn’t nearly often enough), he spreads the fun around. In Analyze This, the belly-laugh comedy directed by Harold Ramis, De Niro looks as relaxed as he does in any Martin Scorsese film. De Niro’s character here — Paul Vitti, an anxiety-stricken mobster in need of therapy — is a synthesis of several of his other characters; he knows that, and we know that, and we’re all in on the joke, yet De Niro’s genius is that he doesn’t let on that he knows. He plays Paul more or less straight; he’s funny in the same way he’s funny in isolated moments in most Scorsese movies (some of us still quote from his great Casino blueberry muffin tirade), yet here he also has an ordinary nebbish to bounce off of. In all, it’s De Niro’s freshest work since a similar turn in Midnight Run.

Analyze This is fluff, and probably inconceivable without De Niro, but it’s been delivered by people who know what they’re doing. Harold Ramis has become a solid actor’s director — he got four great performances out of Michael Keaton in Multiplicity — and he hasn’t lost the scrappy comedic instinct that distinguished his debut, Caddyshack. The script, which is credited to Ramis, Ken Lonegan and Peter Tolan, isn’t especially original; recent projects with the same premise include the National Lampoon cable movie The Don’s Analyst and the HBO series The Sopranos — both of which explore the absurdity of a mobster in therapy. What Analyze This has is De Niro as a mobster in therapy, and Billy Crystal as his shrink. It’s a one-joke movie, but it’s an awfully good joke, told here by experts.

As the neurotic shrink terrified of his patient, Woody Allen might have been more on-the-nose, or even De Niro’s Midnight Run costar Charles Grodin. But Crystal is an old hand at scoring meek laughs off of hardened icons — his rapport with Jack Palance was the only reason to see City Slickers — and he stays in character as Dr. Ben Sobol, bearded and soft in the middle, worried about his impending marriage (to Lisa Kudrow) and secretly resentful of his famous shrink dad. As the shrink’s and the patient’s lives intersect, they both fall apart and put each other back together, each doing things he never imagined doing. Crystal is at his funniest when bluffing at a climactic meeting of the families; introduced as Paul’s consigliere, Ben draws on the same gangster-movie mythology that everyone else in the room (including Paul’s scowling rival, played by Chazz Palminteri) follows to the letter.

There’s sterling support throughout — Kudrow, with her distinctive wobbly timing; Joe Viterelli as Paul’s seen-it-all right-hand-man; Palminteri, playing his role even straighter than De Niro and getting his laughs from our Bronx Tale associations. But you can’t really talk about Analyze This without talking about De Niro, who’s not only funnier but also more moving than he’s been in a while. Paul’s first crying-jag scene is hilarious; in a later tearful scene with more serious undertones, I was afraid people in the audience would be conditioned to laugh at Paul’s tears anyway. Nobody did. It’s a fully rounded performance, not a novelty.

Harold Ramis is a good idea man and good with actors, but he usually lets things slip in the last act; Analyze This sort of sputters to its pat conclusion, leaving some things unresolved. It could be that Ramis has so much fun with his movies that he doesn’t want them to end; he should take a page from Palminteri’s character and have someone look up “closure” in the dictionary for him. But if he can’t sustain his inventiveness to the end, at least he has more going on in the bulk of his movies than your average Ivan Reitman comedy or teen comedy. At its best, this is a gangster comedy to put alongside Wise Guys and Married to the Mob (and light years ahead of Mafia!) — a comedy, like the best gangster dramas, that’s more about attitude and temperament than about whacking people.

See also: Analyze That

Explore posts in the same categories: comedy

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