The very concept behind "high concept" comedy is that the premise
sells itself. A potential viewer can see one poster or one 30-second
commercial and understand instantly all the wacky comic possibilities:
Schwarzenegger and DeVito as twins, Eddie Murphy as the nutty professor,
Robin Williams as an iconoclastic medical student. The work is half done,
it seems, as soon as the stars sign a contract. The reason so many "high
concept" films are so mediocre is that no one bothers to do the other half
of the work, leaving a situation comedy that's entirely situation.
There was reason to hope for a bit more from ANALYZE THIS, since
director Harold Ramis also directed and co-wrote the decade's best high
concept comedy, GROUNDHOG DAY. Ramis' set-up this time around involves a
New York mob boss named Paul Vitti (Robert DeNiro) who is having some
unfamiliar experiences: shortness of breath, crying jags, difficulty --
ahem -- performing. In short, Vitti's got stress. To help with the
problem, he visits psychiatrist Ben Sobol (Billy Crystal), and instantly
becomes convinced that the doctor is a genius. Suddenly the mild-mannered
doctor is expected to be at Vitti's service 24 hours a day, a severe
inconvenience as Ben prepares to get married to his fiancee (Lisa Kudrow).
As a pitch, it probably sounded hilarious; with DeNiro and Crystal in
the lead roles, it probably seemed like a can't-miss mismatched tandem.
Instead, ANALYZE THIS is primarily a series of botched opportunities. The
most glaring gaffe is the casting of Crystal as Sobol, though at first
glance he might appear to be ideal for the uptight therapist. Early in
the film we learn that Ben is professionally dissatisfied, sick of his
whining patients and left in the shadow of his best-selling pop therapist
father (Bill Macy). Not only does this bit of character background prove
utterly pointless in the long run, it emphasizes that Ben could have been
an interesting charcter if played by an actual actor. Crystal simply
can't avoid turning his every scene into shtick, making a classic deadpan
straight-man part -- something perfect for, say, DeNiro's MIDNIGHT RUN
partner Charles Grodin -- into something silly and clownish.
And the parade of bad decisions only begins there. The remarkably
talented Lisa Kudrow, though given third billing, is wasted in what
amounts to the "girlfriend part" for a handful of scenes; the rival
gangster played by Chazz Palminteri, which should have provided a nice
counterpoint to the frazzled Vitti, barely registers as a character.
Perhaps most distracting is a constantly shifting tone that makes ANALYZE
THIS a candidate for its own multiple-therapy session. While scenes of
slapstick and comic misunderstanding are colliding with violent shootouts
and emotional breakdowns, there's never the feeling that Ramis is aiming
for an edgy, dark comedy -- it's just a high concept comedy into which
other elements keep intruding. There's no narrative momentum to ANALYZE
THIS, no sense of character consequence to keep it from turning into a
repetitive series of sketch comedy scenes.
There's at least one thing really right with ANALYZE THIS, and that's
DeNiro. As many times as he's gone to the wiseguy well in his career --
MEAN STREETS, THE GODFATHER PART II, GOODFELLAS, THE UNTOUCHABLES, etc. --
he always seems to find a new twist to keep it fresh. It's fun watching
him nod to his past when he comments on a GODFATHER-inspired dream Ben
has, it's fun watching him work with the amusing Joe Viterelli as Vitti's
main muscele man, and it's fun watching him show the comic chops he too
rarely has a chance to employ. Unfortunately, he's wasting his
performance on a movie that doesn't know what to do with its actors, its
premise -- one-upped by the current HBO series "The Sopranos" -- or its
character development. ANALYZE THIS is a smaller scale example of what
happens to so many summer b
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