Vacuous would-be laugh-riot films aimed at teens are so prevalent today and usually so awful that it's a major relief to discover mainstream Hollywood is still willing to produce a relatively sophisticated comedy of manners. For proof, check out "Analyze This," a new twist on the mismatched-buddy genre.
Billy Crystal is Ben Sobel, a single father and suburban New York psychiatrist ripe for a change of pace. His patients are a whining lot whose complaints often lead Ben to fantasize about telling them off. Ben's complications include know-it-all son Michael (Kyle Sabihy), high-maintenance fiancee Laura (Lisa Kudrow) and dad Isaac (Bill Macy), an arrogant Upper East Side therapist and author who is too busy to attend his son's upcoming nuptials.
The plot gets moving when Ben drives into a land tank and its trunk mysteriously pops open. The doc wants to call the police for an accident report and contact the appropriate insurance companies. But hefty, jowly Jelly (Joe Viterelli) takes Ben's card and suggests, forcefully, that he simply forget it.
Later Paul Vitti (Robert De Niro), the mobster who owns the land tank, conveniently remembers the fender-bender incident while suffering an apparent panic attack; he barges unannounced into Ben's office, giving a patient a wad of cash to clear the room. Vitti, all expensive suit, John Gotti haircut and clipped-Brooklynese talk, confesses that "a friend of his" cries all the time, can't sleep, can't be with his friends and often experiences dizziness and shortness of breath. Ben's counseling helps the mobster relieve his neurotic burden. "The load? Gone!" Vitti exclaims. "Where is it? I don't know!"
"Analyze This" gets much mileage out of the clash between Vitti's impulsive, uncouth behavior and Ben's studied, reserved, worried approach to problem solving. The movie also supplies gags by putting the two men in unexpected situations. For example, Ben, refusing to go with Vitti's henchmen, is tossed into the shark pit at the Miami Seaquarium. The mafioso, advised to take out his anger on a pillow, shoots it with a gun. Vitti, demonstrating his thanks for the help he's received, delivers a pair of wedding gifts -- a massive Italian fountain and a moonlit concert by Tony Bennett -- to Ben's front door.
Ben and Vitti inadvertently heal one another, with the former assuming a more relaxed attitude and the latter changing his life's direction thanks to a counseling "breakthrough." All of this is played for laughs, which "Analyze This" is loaded with, along with more than its share of charm.