Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Analyze This

By Russell Smith

MARCH 15, 1999: 

D: Harold Ramis; with Robert De Niro, Billy Crystal, Lisa Kudrow, Chazz Palminteri, Joe Viterelli. (R, 103 min.)

You don't need a psychology degree to catch all the Freudian subcurrents in Hollywood gangster flicks. All those gun barrels getting stuffed down men's throats, all those big cigars, all that Oedipal conniving to knock off and supplant dominant (god)father figures. So why not explicitly combine the two themes? Take 70 years of clichés about Sicilian Mafia culture and Freudian psychoanalysis, stir 'em up, and see what happens. Ramis, whose directing résumé includes one of the more successful high-concept comedies in recent years (Groundhog Day) and several others of that general ilk (Multiplicity, the original National Lampoon's Vacation) was an obvious -- and smart -- choice to helm this project. His work has a reliable medium-voltage consistency about it, with periodic spikes and surges into the minor genre-classic zone. Ramis' breakthroughs have tended to happen when his casts are strongest. This bodes well for a movie that features wiseguy icon De Niro in a self-parodying lead role and the reliable, versatile Crystal as his foil. And sure enough, the Crystal-De Niro chemistry is the best thing about this farcical tale of a powerful mobster named Paul Vitti who consults a shrink when mysterious anxiety attacks start hampering his ability to perform routine murders and beatings. I was suckered right in by not only the clever setup but also Ramis' skill at manipulating stock imagery and characterizations for his own ends. From the made men's f-word-intensive dialogue to the clam sauce and opera Muzak at the Mafiosi Italian eateries, every stereotype is rendered with Kabuki-like precision, the better to savor their incongruity in the let's-talk-about-our-feelings milieu of clinical psychology. I wouldn't say that Analyze This greatly exceeded my expectations, though. Too often, screenwriters Ken Lonergan and Peter Tolan seemed content to harvest easy laughs from the ground directly underneath the concept's wide canopy. I'd have appreciated a little more willingness to shake the branches for less obvious jokes. Still, De Niro was hilarious in registering believable gangster takes on topics such as the Oedipus Complex ("That Freud was one sick fuck!") and the psychoanalytic method ("I tell you all this stuff and you never say nothin' but 'how did that make you feel?' I could get jelly to do that for me!"). Crystal, as the hapless shrink getting dragged kicking and screaming into Vitti's PuzoWorld theme-park realm, is equally deadpan, and equally good at infusing his role with just enough verisimilitude to keep the broader elements from totally overwhelming the story. But as enjoyable as it is, it's hard to escape a sense of Analyze This being the work of competent talents who knew exactly where the good-enough line was and didn't feel particularly inspired to push far beyond it. And a better definition of a three-star movie I cannot offer.
3.0 stars

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