Rated R - Running time: 1:43 - Released 3/5/99

After seeing Robert De Niro playing the same tough guy for 20 years, it's nice to see him doing — uh — the exact same thing. But with a sense of humor. De Niro's characterization of mob boss Paul Vitti in Harold Ramis's Analyze This is not much different from his standard parts, but here, he's making fun of himself, lampooning the gangster/thug character he has become so well associated with over the years.

Meanwhile, Billy Crystal, who hasn't done anything memorable since Mr. Saturday Night (1992) — unless you want to count the Oscar shows he's hosted — desperately needs a success to put him back in the public's (and the producers') good graces. Though he's not making much of a stretch here either, playing a jewish guy with an ascerbic sense of humor, this might be his ticket out of the doldrums created by his latest flop, My Giant. If nothing else, the contrast De Niro and Crystal provide each other will help them both.

Paul Vitti (De Niro), New York mobster, suffers from job-related stress. He can't kill people, he can't watch people die, he can't even watch a sentimental TV commercial without bursting into tears. Living in the shadow of his great father, the capo di tutti capi, he mustn't let a psychological disorder ruin his reputation, so he goes to see a "shrink" named Ben Sobel (Crystal). Ben, who also has trouble living up to the ideals of his famous analyst father (Bill Macy), finds himself stagnating in his profession. He feels like he needs a change, but Vitti is not exactly what he had in mind. Still, he agrees to treat him, because Vitti truly does seem to be in pain. And because he might kill him if he refuses.

The trouble is, Ben is about to be married to the beautiful but dippy news anchor Laura MacNamara (Lisa Kudrow, who is making a career out of playing dippy people), and Vitti and his friends keep interrupting things. Like the wedding.

Neither De Niro nor Crystal will win any stretching awards for this, but director Ramis (Caddyshack, Groundhog Day) deserves some credit for keeping the pace moving and the dialogue clicking. There are many rapid-fire scenes between the two leads that showcase their talents nicely, and the script, written by Ken Lonergan (story) and Peter Tolan, with some help from Ramis, is funny and unassuming. The high point is a dream sequence re-creating the scene from The Godfather where Marlon Brando gets shot buying oranges. It is a shot-for-shot copy, including the overhead view of the oranges cascading all over the street and the close-up of the assassins' guns held high, but with Crystal in the Brando role and De Niro (instead of John Cazale) kneeling over him, pathetically crying, "Papa! Papa!" This clever idea works brilliantly, especially since De Niro played Brando's role as a young man in The Godfather, Part II.

I must say, Kudrow is quite disappointing here; although she has only a peripheral role, her usual airhead performance drags the comedy down considerably, and her make-up looks pasty and unattractive, as does that of several others in the film. An enjoyable performance is given by Joe Viterelli as Vitti's right-hand-man, Jelly. Every menacing mobster needs a fat-but-lovable sidekick. Viterelli and Chazz Palminteri, who plays Vitti's enemy, have both been seen in plenty of other mob flicks, and know the parts well. Analyze This is nothing new, especially for its stars, but it's good fun nonetheless. ****

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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