Analyze This (1999)
Release Date: March 5th, 1999 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Harold Ramis Actors: Robert De Niro, Billy Crystal, Lisa Kudrow, Chazz Palminteri, Joe Viterelli, Kyle Sabihy
arely are audiences treated to a gangster comedy with real ambition. Thanks to scripting by Kenneth Lonergan (“Gangs of New York”), with Peter Tolan and Harold Ramis (“Caddyshack,” “Groundhog Day,” and “National Lampoon’s Vacation”), who also directs, there’s lots of bad language and biting sarcasm that makes the hoodlums seem not only more realistic, but also contradictorily coarse in a comedic setting. The violence is an additional, stark contrast, most notably when the lead character contemplates executing his helpers and during the gun-blazing climax. It creates a level of seriousness that forces “Analyze This” to be, on occasion, a completely straight drama, despite relying on a majority of comical events.
In 1957, in the tiny town of Apalachin, all the wiseguys and gangsters of New York meet to discuss their criminal enterprises – but it ends in disaster when the Feds are called in. Years later, the present day mobsters plan to meet again, this time to settle their volatile futures. Made man Paul Vitti (Robert De Niro) is dealing with lots of stress and a panic attack, caused largely by an assassination attempt against his life that failed. By chance, he comes across Dr. Ben Sobel (Billy Crystal), a shrink who just might unwittingly help him.
Sobel listens to his clients, daydreaming of when he can tell them exactly what he thinks; harsh, brutally cold words of advice, which are the opposite of what he actually relates. He also contends with his wisecracking son, unafraid to speak his own mind (but, right off the bat, comedienne Molly Shannon makes an appearance, bringing an air of utter ridiculousness that creates further disparities for Vitti’s proceeding torture scene). Ben is also planning to marry Laura (Lisa Kudrow) during a vacation, which gets interrupted when he’s kidnapped to treat Vitti, who continues to have bouts of crippling mental strains and episodes that involve crying for hours. Matters worsen when the Mafia chieftain repeatedly drops in on Ben for further therapy, all while rival gangster Primo Sindone (Chazz Palminteri) schedules a follow-up hit.
“Paul, you have to channel all this nice grief into a murderous rage!” De Niro and Crystal make an effective comedy team, but overall the film misses its mark on more than one occasion. Kudrow as the love interest seems a misstep, some of the shootouts and abrasive repartee might be a bit much (the comedy is sporadically suppressed in the wrong spots), and Ben’s dreams predictably mirror “The Godfather.” But most of the humor is still above average. It’s definitely not Harold Ramis’ best work, but it was popular enough at the box office and among critics to garner a sequel that brought back almost the entire cast.
– Mike Massie