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Analyze This  

Starring: Robert DeNiro, Billy Crystal, Lisa Kudrow, Joe Viterelli, Chazz Palmenteri Directed by: Harold Ramis Written by: Peter Tolan and Kenneth Lonergan Produced by: Paula Weinstein and Jane Rosenthal

Crime boss Paul Vitti has a problem. Lately, he's been experiencing symptoms which he feels are the signs of a heart attack. After one of his "attacks", he is rushed to the hospital. He is carefully examined, then one of the doctors gives him the good news - telling him it wasn't a heart attack at all, but a mere panic attack. The problem just got worse.

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A major player in the mob having a panic attack? How would it look to the rest of the organization? Something has to be done about this. But since there is no "quick fix" medication for Vitti, there is only one other solution - a shrink. They decide to enlist the help of Dr. Ben Sobol, a psychiatrist they ran into on the streets (in a hilarious chance encounter). Sobol wants nothing to do with this, but these aren't exactly the type of people you refuse. When Dr. Sobol is clued in to that fact, he reluctantly agrees to counsel Vitti for two weeks, attempting to help him get back in touch with the mobster inside.

That's the setup for "Analyze This", the very funny new film from director Harold ("Groundhog Day") Ramis. The movie stars Robert DeNiro as Vitti and Billy Crystal as Sobol. What they do is create a couple of interesting characters from which the humor stems, rather than forcing the jokes or stretching for laughs. They understand that the situation these characters are in is funny, so they don't feel the need to add extra "quirks" to their performances, which lesser actors might have tried to do. In an odd way, you could say they play their roles straight. It takes a good deal of confidence to have that much faith in their material, but it's that very confidence that makes both performances quite good.

That brings us to the material itself. The script, by Peter Tolan and Kenneth Lonergan, is clever in the way it handles the relationship between these two very different men. They could have thrown in all sorts of silly sight gags and one-liners, but instead give room for each character to breathe; Vitti and Sobol are both allowed to think, reason, and maneuver to try to get what they need. That's what makes their characters interesting to watch. When Vitti realizes he can't use brute force to make Sobol counsel him, he suddenly breaks down into tears, attempting to play off the good doctor's sympathy. Later, when Sobol senses his life may be in danger, he uses his therapeutic skills to bail himself out. The other performances add extra humor to the film, including Lisa Kudrow as Sobol's soon-to-be-wife, providing his new "connection" to the mafia doesn't get in the way; Joe Viterelli as Jelly, Vitti's number one man, who grows to like Sobol, yet can't understand his boss' need for a shrink; and Chazz Palminteri as Vitti's rival, who senses something isn't quite right with the man and wants to use that opportunity to move up in the criminal ranks.

By bringing together two characters from different backgrounds with different schools of thought, the film creates some very funny sequences. (Vitti's reaction to Sobol's explanation of Freud's Oedipus Complex is priceless.) But the movie also gets us to care about these men, and that's where the real achievement is. Each man has their own beliefs, values, and way of handling certain situations. When filmmakers understand their characters as well as they do here, they are able to get the most out of their premise. "Analyze This" successfully brings it all out into the open.

Copyright 2001 Michael Brendan McLarney Critically Ill

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