Analyze This (1999)

Originally Reviewed – 11/10/2011

Way back when, in the year 1999, a little known set of strange coincidences occurred. On January 10th of that year, a brand new show featuring small time character actors hit the HBO network, a channel mostly known for movies and not much else. The show centered on a New Jersey mafia don and his two families, the one that committed the crimes, and the other at home who benefited from the violence. The interesting point was that this particular boss visited a shrink, revealing a vulnerability that was unheard of in modern day mafia tales. Then, just three months later, Warner Brothers released a film starring Robert DeNiro and Billy Crystal about an anxiety ridden mob boss who learns to deal with his issues while keeping his crime family together. The show was the Sopranos, the film was Analyze This and while the movie doesn’t live up to the genre defining TV program, it’s still an amusing flick about wiseguys in therapy.

DeNiro plays Paul Vitti, a tough as nails mobster who, after the sudden slaying of his mentor, starts succumbing to anxiety attacks and uncontrollable weeping. Faced with a huge meeting with the most prominent men in the mafia world, Vitti turns to psychiatrist Ben Sobel for help. Naturally, Ben wants nothing to do with the famous gangster yet, after some strong instance from Vitti’s crew of flunkies, agrees to treat him. After all, Sobel is a doctor and Vitti is really a man in pain, despite his murderous tendencies. What happens next is a comedy of errors: Sobel just wants to get Vitti emotionally stable enough to deal with the meeting, Vitti considers Sobel an employee, demanding his assistance at the most inopportune times. While these moments come off contrived and manufactured, they do provide some decent laughs, especially when Vitti’s lackey interrupts the wedding of Sobel and his fiancé (Lisa Kudrow). The scenes are all setups to a running joke, but the joke is funny enough to pull the film along.

Despite these machinations, the film largely survives thanks to the odd couple chemistry between DeNiro and Crystal. Although DeNiro does his standard gangster shtick, Crystal shows the most range as the nebbish doctor, providing a very funny foil for DeNiro’s shenanigans. The pair makes the most of a script comprised of mafia clichés, creating a film that never takes itself too seriously, yet is aware its dealing with real people and real issues. The scene stealer of the film, however, has to be Joe Viterelli in the role of Jelly, Vitti’s right hand man. Jelly is hilarious in every scene he’s in, propelling the film from a middling comedy to a real rib cracker. On the other hand, Lisa Kudrow is woefully miscast in the role of Sobel’s beloved. While I do like Kudrow as a comedic actress, you can tell she was cast solely for her likeability, which makes the fact her character is so unlikable all the more jarring. The relationship between the two is downright co-dependent and detracts from the experience as a whole.

If you sit down to analyze this (pun regrettably intended), the combination of the heart stopping drama that was the Sopranos and the comedic farce that is Analyze This provides a full spectrum of the material that can be mined from the mafia psychoanalysis genre. Jarring but never shocking, the film earns itself a soft R rating with raunchy dialogue and ridiculous shooting scenes to go with the comedic center. Not a bad film but not a brilliant one either, Analyze This is a very passable diversion for those weaned into film by the Goodfellas and Casino’s of the world. Not the comedy classic of director Harold Ramis’ first film, Caddyshack, but the film is a very passable diversion for those looking for a little “howyoudoin” in their comedy.

Score – 70%

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About Bill Tucker

Jersey based and New York bred, Bill Tucker is an author of film reviews, short fiction and articles for variety of sites and subjects. He currently blogs for The Austinot (Austin lifestyle), the Entertainment Weekly Blogging Community (TV and film) and SkirmishFrogs.com (retro gaming). He's also contributed articles to Texas Highways magazine. His favorite pastimes include craft beer snobbery, gaming and annoying his friends with random quotes from The King of Comedy. You can check out all of his literary naughty bits at www.thesurrealityproject.com View all posts by Bill Tucker

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