Robert DeNiro and Billy Crystal team with Lisa Kudrow, Chaz Palminteri and director/co-writer Harold Ramis to make you a comedy offer you can’t refuse in this laugh-out-loud mob hit. De Niro, deftly spoofing the wiseguy roles that have been a staple of his estimable career, plays powerful New York crime family racketeer Paul Vitti. Crystal, always one joke ahead of sleeping with the fishes, is shrink, Ben Sobel, who has just days to resolve Vitti’s emotional crisis and turn into a happy, well-adjusted gangster. Yes, Sobel is a falmily pychiatrist.But surely this isn’t the kind of family he had in mind.
Analyze This 7.75
eyelights: the great dynamic between Billy Crystal and Robert De Niro. Chazz Palminteri.
eyesores: Lisa Kudrow’s pained expression. the extremely contrived final act.
“When I got into family therapy, this was not the “family” I had in mind.”
‘Analyze This’ is a Harold Ramis comedy featuring Billy Crystal as a psychologist and Robert De Niro as his patient – who also happens to be a mob boss. Released in 1999, it was a smash hit (the last one of Ramis’ then-blossoming directorial career) and it eventually spawned a sequel, ‘Analyze That’.
It mostly consists of the relationship between the two characters, as De Niro’s Paul Vitti is forced upon Crystal’s Ben Sobel, intruding into his life every time that he feels that he needs help. The only real plots elements are the fact that Sobel is about to get married and Vitti has a run-in with a rival.
A half-comedy, half-drama, I didn’t really enjoy it the first time that I saw it; I was disappointed by how few laughs it actually held, given how much people were raving about it. When the sequel came out, I couldn’t be bothered to see it: since it was lambasted and failed at the box office, it wasn’t particularly inspiring.
I think that what probably didn’t sit well with me is the stalker element of the picture, on which much of the humour rests. Personally, I find it somewhat disconcerting: What do you do with someone who won’t say no, who won’t go away, and is not afraid to use force to get their way? Eek…
To me, it’s no laughing matter; that type of intrusion is extremely unsettling. It can be funny in short doses, but not so much when it’s the core theme of a picture. Essentially, ‘Analyze This’ is a more dangerous, but maybe less creepy (or annoying), ‘What About Bob?’ – another film that I had a difficult time with.
What truly makes it work are the stellar performances of its leading men:
“Ah fuck Freud. After what you just told me, you know, I’m afraid to call my own mother on the phone!”
- I have mixed feelings about De Niro. When he’s on, he’s AMAZEBALLS. But when he’s off (i.e. when he’s doing comedy) he’s pretty hard to watch. In ‘Analyze This’, De Niro mostly plays it straight, but it’s the situations that make him funny. Then there’s the ironic weeping, in which he’s got the emotions down, but doesn’t actually tear up. This annoyed the heck out of me, because they could at least have given him some eye-drops. Otherwise, this is a best of both worlds: De Niro playing an intense gangster for laughs.
“What is my goal here, to make you a happy, well-adjusted gangster?”
- I’m a fan of Billy Crystal: I love his intelligent but slightly acerbic demeanor. The problem is the material he gets to work with: for every ‘When Harry Met Sally‘ and ‘City Slickers‘, he does a ‘Fathers’ Day‘. Here, he’s his usual great self, playing it mostly straight as well. Part of the humour is how is character stands up to De Niro, even in the face of potential violence; you can’t help but be amused (and in awe) of the guts on display. There’s not much he can do, but he’s no lame duck – and Crystal’s delivery makes it entirely credible.
“I’d like to see a movie, but it’s nothing but this shoot-em-up action bullshit. I get enough of that at work.”
- Chazz Palminteri has a cameo as Primo Sindone, Vitti’s primary rival. He also plays it straight, but deadly – there’s no messing around with this guy. His character is on the sidelines and doesn’t know what is going on between Vitti and Sobel so it’s his confusion that makes his moments funny. When he asks his henchman to get a dictionary to find out what “closure” is, you can’t help but lose it; Palminteri is pure gold in the part. And he’s one of the many gangster movie actors who were used to add heft to the film. Brilliant.
Where the film falls down is in the casting of Lisa Kudrow as Sobel’s fiancé, Laura MacNamara. I want to like Kudrow; she makes her characters seem grounded, pleasant. But she’s pretty inexpressive, often using one tone throughout her pictures. And that pained expression on her face? What’s that about? And can’t she stop doing it all the time? Thankfully, she’s a secondary character, but almost anyone else would have been better.
‘Analyze This’ also suffers from a weak last act, with Sobel being dragged in as consigliere by Vitti’s sideman. Frankly, there’s no reason on Earth why he would be picked over anyone else; it was merely an unnecessary contrivance, an excuse for some cheap laughs – the kind of thing that grates on my nerves.
Crystal tries to make the most of the material, doing his best to dig up some amusing interpretations, but it wasn’t at all credible (or funny) and it severely hampers the picture. Truth be told, I would have given the picture an 8.0 if not for this desperate attempt at comedy from the filmmakers. A real shame.
The key strength of ‘Analyze This’ is the really great casting (for the most part). The concept isn’t anything new, and it’s not especially inspired, but the mixture of De Niro and Crystal both playing off of their individual strengths make the film a lot of fun to watch. I’d recommend it for some light, relatively-safe humour for the whole family.
If the head of your family is a Don.
Date of viewing: December 7, 2013