"So this mafia guy tells a shrink he needs counseling," the comedian begins. "The shrink says, 'Okay, so tell me your problems?' The mafia guy says, 'I'd tell ya, but then I'd have ta kill ya.'‚"
Ba-doom! Or something to that effect.
In "Analyze This," directed by Harold Ramis, the shrink is Dr. Ben Sobel (Billy Crystal), an easygoing psychoanalyst with a successful, if boring practice who's engaged to a Miami TV news personality (Lisa Kudrow).
The mafia guy is Paul Vitti (Robert De Niro), a notorious New York don who, it turns out, has need of a little counseling. There's a turf war coming down and Paul has lost his nerve lately. He can't execute people in cold blood like he used to. He's getting anxiety attacks. And he can't seem to perform in the bedroom with his mistress.
They meet after Ben bumps into the back of a car one distracted day. The trunk flips open to reveal a hogtied victim on his way to a premature resting spot in Jersey. A big guy called Jelly (Joseph Viterelli) lumbers out and tells Ben to fuggedabout the whole thing. Ben gives Jelly his business card anyway.
Jelly's boss happens to be Paul. Ben's in the middle of another tedious session one day, when the gangster and Jelly barge their way into his office.
"When I got into family therapy," protests Ben, "this wasn't the 'family' I had in mind." Do we have a situation or what?
Ben's about opening up, letting it all hang out. But Paul's about keeping your trap shut 'coz what you don't know won't kill you.
The fact that he's hung up on a traumatic incident from the past, is plagued by rival gangster Primo (Chazz Palminteri), who's bent on whacking him, and has an impotence problem, is nobody's business. But he believes Ben's the real thing and expects him to root out this stuff whenever the gangster feels compelled to call. Which is disruptively often.
As a straight-ahead story, "Analyze This" is a pretty woeful affair. Ben seems to drop everything without much of a fight whenever Paul interrupts his life. The tension between Ben and his father comes up like a black cloud, then hangs around without a real resolution. What was the point of it? Poor old Kudrow is stuck playing the jilted bride when Paul's disruptive tactics (he expects Ben to jump whenever he calls) ruin their nuptial plans. A better script might have given this woman some extra dimension, had her break out and become a forceful contender fighting for Ben's time.
Other things simply don't work. One of Ben's dreams is a parody of the Marlon Brando shooting scene in "The Godfather" that goes on too long without much payoff; and a gangster meeting with other dons, at which Ben has to fill in for Paul, never really delivers the comic fireworks you're hoping for.
Basically, you have to appreciate the shtick and one-liners concocted by Ramis with scriptwriters Peter Tolan and Kenneth Lonergan, as well as the enjoyable relationship between De Niro and Crystal on-screen. Everything else is functional or forgettable, a mere conduit to the overextended sketch.
De Niro owns the movie, as a man used to being in control, who has to get sensitive on himself. When Ben explains the classical background of the Oedipal complex, in which Oedipus kills his father and sleeps with his mother, Paul has but one response.
When Paul starts to accept the psychoanalytical method he calls his rival Primo in a fit of fury, and yells about his "angry feelings" and suggests they find "closure." After hanging up, Primo turns to his henchman and says darkly, "You get a dictionary and find out what this 'closure' is."
Okay, no more reciting the jokes. But just be aware of what you're walking into: a sitcom disguised as a movie. With De Niro and Crystal playing off each other, you could do a lot worse.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company
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