Analyze This

on March 05, 1999 by Wade Major
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Thanks in equal measure to the crack direction of Harold Ramis, a splendidly intelligent script by Ramis, Peter Tolan and Kenneth Lonergan, and the seasoned talents of De Niro and Crystal, "Analyze This" is a welcome springtime surprise, a high-concept studio production with the astonishingly good sense to set its comedic aims higher rather than lower.
The storyline reads like a cross between "Goodfellas" and "What about Bob?": Just when he least expects or wants it, mild-mannered psychiatrist Ben Sobel (Billy Crystal) finds his vacation, impending marriage to girlfriend Laura (Lisa Kudrow) and life in general thrown into disarray when notorious mobster Paul Vitti (Robert De Niro) seeks his help in resolving certain "issues." These issues, it seems, have undercut his ability to rule as the ruthless thug that his enemies, underlings and competitors expect him to be.
Besot by stress and anxiety, Vitti insinuates himself into Sobel's life in the most intrusive way possible, pushing the good doctor's sanity to the edge, yet always managing to extract the necessary words of wisdom and counsel, even when Sobel is least inclined to be helpful.
The simple beauty of the concept is exceeded only by the plum pairing of De Niro and Crystal, two astonishing talents who make the most of a rare chance to poke fun at themselves and the types of roles with which they respectively became famous. Supporting performances are equally impressive, from Lisa Kudrow ("The Opposite of Sex") to Joe Viterelli ("Bullets Over Broadway") as Vitti's dunderheaded right-hand man Jelly, to Chazz Palminteri as conspiring rival mobster Primo Sindone.
The film's greatest and most rewarding triumph, however, is that it refuses to resort to merely parodying so obvious a target as "gangster movies" or "therapy movies." First and foremost, "Analyze This" is a character piece, featuring fully-realized characters that transcend the caricatures on which they are based. As a result, the greater part of the film's humor derives from the interplay between De Niro and Crystal, rather than the usual sitcom-style cavalcade of prepared jokes and slapstick gags.
Kudos also to the superlative contributions of cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh and editor Christopher Tellefsen for adding snap, color and general levity to what might easily have become an oppressively dark comedy. Starring Robert DeNiro, Billy Crystal in roles they could easily have been born to play, it seems almost inconceivable that the film could possibly be as good as it should be. And yet, miraculously, it is
Tags: psychologist, mobster, murder, gangster, psychology, panic attacks, buddy comedy, police, crime, Billy Crystal, Robert De Niro, Lisa Kudrow, Joe Viterelli, Harold Ramis, Kenneth Lonergan, Peter Tolan
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