A shrink pushes a mobster to get in touch with the good fella inside him in “Analyze This,” a sometimes funny situation comedy in which the mechanics of the situation eventually overwhelm the comedy. Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal both have moments to shine in this farcical concoction, which never gets much further than playing riffs on the central juxtaposition of the gangster’s emotionalism and the psychiatrist’s cerebral outlook. Neither star has the strongest commercial track record, but pic’s audience-pleasing nature and the current market paucity of adult-oriented comedies bode well for a decent B.O. run.
The setting is familiar De Niro turf: New York’s criminal underworld, the one dominated by old Italian families and dees-and-dohs goombahs. But as an aging patriarch acknowledges upfront, times have changed, with the traditional Mafia no longer concerned with how to divvy up the abundant spoils but with its very survival. Worse than that, Paul Vitti (De Niro), one of the city’s two top mob kingpins, is suffering from a modern malady entirely alien to the gangland ethos: anxiety attacks.
Could anyone ever imagine Scarface, Little Caesar or Vito Corleone stressing out? The Harold Ramis picture, which shares the same central conceit as HBO’s series “The Sopranos,” gets reasonable comic mileage out of the absurdity of that idea for a while, as the stricken Vitti coyly pretends to his recruited shrink, “family” therapist Ben Sobel (Crystal), that he’s only there on behalf of a friend before coercing the doc into being on 24-hour call to attend to his crisis.
The timing is inconvenient for Sobel, as he’s headed for Miami to marry broadcaster Laura MacNamara (Lisa Kudrow). But when Sobel’s unwelcome new patient finds himself not only unable to pull the trigger on his enemies but too preoccupied to perform in the sack, Vitti heads for Florida, precipitating a gangland hit that aborts Sobel’s wedding, ups the ante between Vitti and his New York rival Primo Sindone (Chazz Palminteri) and wreaks havoc on Sobel’s personal life.
Vitti’s quicksilver personality shifts between dispensing arrogant attitude and vulnerable breakdowns. It gives De Niro plenty to work with, especially in this initial stretch, and he elicits quite a few yocks as Vitti intimidates Sobel one moment and begs for help the next.
De Niro’s precise comic timing and colorful line readings constitute pic’s greatest pleasure, and script takes every opportunity to put shrinky jargon into the mouth of a man much more at ease with four-letter expletives. Egged on by Sobel, who mockingly states his intention to make his charge “a well-adjusted gangster,” Vitti alarms Sindone by informing him that he seeks “closure” with him.
Once the action returns to Gotham, however, the plot machinery starts becoming far too visible, to the detriment of the steady laughs. Getting wind of a Mafia summit that’s in the works, the FBI forces Sobel to wear a wire to his meetings with Vitti, and each man becomes convinced that the other is setting him up.
His gangland reputation endangered by rumors that he’s seeing a shrink, Vitti almost does in the doc before breaking down from an overwhelming epiphany (turns out Vitti and Sobel suffer from inferiority complexes prompted by following powerful fathers into their same professions), and Sobel has his second attempt at a wedding interrupted when he’s paged to stand in for the ailing Vitti at the mob conference.
Climactic sequence finally gives Crystal, thus far restricted largely to second banana status, his chance to bust out, which he does with a nice bit of faux tough guy vamping. But the gradual dilution of fresh humor is further undercut by a queasy sense that the picture, in the end, is quietly endorsing all the psychoanalytical mumbo jumbo that it has been poking fun at all along. No matter that the feel-good universe of therapeutic cliches is no doubt preferable to the world in which problems are settled by violence; you don’t want the rug of satiric irreverence pulled out from under you when there is just soft, wet ground beneath it.
Kudrow and Palminteri are cast to type, with no opportunity to deliver anything other than familiar goods; supporting honors go to the spectacularly intimidating and imposing Joe Viterelli as Vitti’s aptly named henchman, Jelly.
Christopher Tellefsen’s brisk editing brings things to a close not a moment too soon, Howard Shore’s jaunty score mixes nicely with an easy-on-the-ears assortment of standards (Tony Bennett appears as himself at the end to serenade the audience out the door) and all other tech contributions are smooth.