Putting a mobster on a shrink’s couch isn’t exactly a concept with the dew still on it. Alan Arkin counseled hit man John Cusack in Grosse Pointe Blank, and therapist Lorraine Bracco meets with made man James Gandolfini on HBO’s The Sopranos. But Analyze This, a bracing blend of sass and crass from director and co-writer Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day), really nails it. No wonder — Billy Crystal’s Ben Sobol, a Manhattan psychiatrist with his own share of neuroses, is treating the godfather himself.
It’s a treat to watch Robert De Niro — the goodfella supreme — tweak every gangster role he’s ever played as Paul Vitti, a hood in crisis. Paul is not accustomed to shrinks, but rising to the head of his crime family is making him anxious. He’s losing sleep and thinking of his dead father.
It seems like fate when Dr. Ben rear-ends the car of Paul’s bodyguard, Jelly (the priceless Joseph Viterelli). A favor is called in and Ben, a divorced father accustomed to treating bored housewives who need to get in touch with their “inner uniqueness,” finds himself with a notorious killer on his couch. Paul, afraid of letting out his non-macho feelings, issues one caveat: “If I go fag, you die.”
The obstacles that Ramis hits in juggling plot lines that include Ben’s problems with his chubby son (Kyle Sahiby) and his nervous fiancé (Lisa Kudrow), plus Paul’s feud with a mob rival (Chazz Palminteri), are easily overcome by the ace comic teamwork of De Niro and Crystal. De Niro has rarely been this loose onscreen. His role here is akin to Marlon Brando’s in The Freshman — a witty Godfather sendup that never sinks to glib caricature. Watching De Niro take Paul through his first panic attack (“I’m crying like a woman”) is an unalloyed joy. “You, you got a gift, a fucking gift,” he tells Dr. Ben, who finds himself playing mobster when Paul’s breakthrough causes him to reject violence. The film’s highlight is Dr. Ben’s dream that casts him as the godfather and Paul as his weak son. “Me, Fredo?” says Paul. “I don’t think so.” No need to analyze Analyze This; just enjoy.