Analyze This

.. Regular readers here know that CV is not one to effuse superlatives, particularly over popular, mass market films. That may be due, in part, to the dismal state of commercial film making in recent years. Nonetheless, CV is not yet a total curmudgeon and will cheerfully praise deserving accomplishment.

Analyze This opens at a Keystone Cops pace and doesn’t slow down for a minute. CV, along with the rest of the audience, guffawed happily for the entire length of the movie.

In the classic Godfather movies, the brilliance of the concept is the contrast of domestic family life and relationships with the family business, in a family whose business happens to be crime, a contrast which provides a constant flow of irony in the context of drama/melodrama.

In Analyze This, the concept is taken from the family to the individual level: a guy with some anxiety problems and a touch of impotence, who happens to be a mobster, seeks the help of a psychiatrist. The contrast between our expectations of the tough Mafioso and the touchy-feely shrink is the core source of the irony here, but in a totally comedic mode.

Even before our heroes meet, there are shrink jokes galore, very funny material indeed, with Billy Crystal in perfect form, his timing impeccable. It helps, too, although it isn’t necessary, to have some familiarity with the Godfather films. There are many allusions to the earlier work and the audience’s memories of that material enhance the humor here. Now add Robert DeNiro, caught in the middle of gangland upheaval, as tough and ruthless as they come, but seeking help with personal problems – problems about feelings, problems about masculinity. The stage is set for some terrifically funny material, coming from both sides.

At one point, DeNiro is roughing up a hood, trying to get some information, asking questions. The hood answers and gets slapped by DeNiro’s sidekick: "It’s a rhetorical question!" he says. At another point, Crystal in utter frustration asks DeNiro, "So what is my goal here? To make you a happy, well adjusted gangster?"

The writing is crisp and fresh, milking this theme beyond what one might have thought possible. Harold Ramis both wrote and directed Analyze This with cleverness and imagination.(Peter Tolan is also given screenwriting credit.) Ramis’ earlier films were of the National Lampoon and Ghostbusters variety, commercially successful comedies. More recently, he stretched for comedy of more depth with Groundhog Day, a critical as well as a commercial success. Analyze This achieves a new level of accomplishment for Ramis, genuinely literate and witty. The casting could not have served the material better and Ramis elicits sizzling comic chemistry from the DeNiro-Crystal combination.

Arthur Lazere

San Francisco, CA
Mr. Lazere founded culturevulture.net in 1998 and worked tirelessly to promote its potential as a means for communicating a distinctly personal yet wide-ranging selection of arts reviews. Under his leadership, the site grew in esteem as well as in “circulation", and is well-regarded nationally and internationally as a source for up-to-date, well-written criticism. Arthur passed away on September 30, 2006.