Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Manic Depressing

By Susan Ellis

MARCH 15, 1999:  Well, you can’t accuse the comedy Analyze This of having delusions of grandeur. The premise is very, very simple: A mobster goes to see a shrink. And that’s all there is to it.

If anything, Analyze This is a classic case of transference. Remember the nervous psychiatrist played by Alan Arkin in Grosse Pointe Blank? Or John Belushi as the Godfather in group therapy on Saturday Night Live? The filmmakers have sought to stretch this angle into an entire film, make it into a buddy flick with Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal as the opposites working toward a common ground. They throw in a few gags mixing “issues” and guns, and badda-bing, badda-boom, they’ve got themselves a comedy. Trouble is, what the audience gets is something of a disappointment.

De Niro is Paul Vitti, the head of a New York “family.” For the first time in 40 years, all the heads of Mob organizations are holding a meeting to elect a CEO of sorts. As the date approaches, Paul is experiencing dizziness and shortness of breath. He’s so upset he can’t even work over a rat-fink properly. A chance encounter leads him to psychiatrist Ben Sobel, who agrees to help him through his panic attacks and have him back cracking kneecaps in no time. Only Paul is no ordinary patient. He’s the type of patient who kidnaps his psychiatrist in the middle of the night; he’s the type of patient who offs a guy in the middle of his psychiatrist’s wedding. Meanwhile, the FBI is keeping tabs on Ben, and a rival gangster has ordered a hit on Paul.

Analyze This offers De Niro a chance to goof on his many roles as a wise guy. His tough guy bursts into tears, and De Niro milks it — literally boo-hooing. The joke is that this violent, macho man finds himself talking about boundaries and feelings and reaching closure while unintentionally terrorizing the poor psychiatrist by exposing him to his world of thugs and bullet holes. Given a sharper script, it might have worked. But the one penned by Peter Tolan, whose credits include two quickly canceled sitcoms, and directed by Harold Ramis (Meatballs, Ghostbusters) is blandly middle-of-the-road with nothing too dark or outrageous, which is what it desperately needs. It also wastes the talents of Lisa Kudrow as Ben’s fiancée and Chazz Palminteri as Paul’s enemy, and for that, they really should have their heads checked.

People, the future looks bleak. It’s not the threat of Y2K; it’s the glut of these throwaway movies involving cool, bitchy teenagers. In fact, being thrown into darkness and cold doesn’t seem so bad if it means this particular filmmaking trend stops.

The latest affront is Cruel Intentions, an adaptation of Les Liaisons Dangereuses involving high-schoolers. Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Phillippe (54) star as Katherine and Sebastian, stepsister and stepbrother and all-around troublemakers. With their parents away, Katherine and Sebastian have decided to make their last days before school starts a little more interesting. Sebastian bets that he can deflower the school virgin before the first bell. He puts up his classic car; she antes up the use of her body in any way her stepbrother sees fit. At the same time, they join forces to humiliate another virtuous girl, who dared to catch the eye of one of Katherine’s boyfriends and whose mother is gossiping about Sebastian.

Gratuitous hardly seems sufficient in describing this film. Spit is swapped between two of the young actresses, there’s a quick butt shot, and Katherine and Sebastian spend an awful lot of time rubbing on each other while talking explicitly. But it’s not even gratuitous in a fun, campy way; it just feels cheap. But that was probably writer/director Roger Kumble’s intention: to shock with the risqué. The actors are certainly up for their parts. They sneer and preen with the best of them.

Cruel Intentions misses a true opportunity with its use of contemporary teens. The Liaisons Dangereuses franchise works on its use of deception and destroying trust in the most intimate fashion. Yet, in this day and age, a shattering seduction is somewhat old hat. So you’re a slut? So what? It might just get you a book deal and two hours with Barbara Walters. What would really ruin these kids is spreading rumors of a more nasty sort, say they like Celine Dion or, worse, Britney Spears. That would finish them but good.

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