Couch Sessions

If therapy doesn't work, there's always violence.

Paul Vitti (Robert De Niro), that recumbent Mafia don who threw in the towel at the end of the last session, is now in the bunker, within a couple of weeks from parole. Dr. Ben Sobel (Billy Crystal), on the other hand is in mourning for the death of his father, a man who influenced Ben towards psychiatry, responsible for putting him simultaneously in the chair, then on the couch.

When Vitti learns that he is on an old enemy’s hit list, he fakes a mental breakdown that leads to his dismissal into the custody and treatment of his old friend Sobel. Quickly discarding his ruse, Vitti tries his hand at civilian living, where he attempts one colorless job after another, but unable to keep his temper or his indelicate vocabulary in check, he finds the perfect job as an advisor on a Mafia-based TV series "Little Caesar". Here, he is not only free to let his fists and expletives fly, but must also teach the main cast his criminal ways for that measure of authenticity. Soon he’s rounded up his old gang, given them parts in the series and concurrently planned a heist. Dr. Sobel unwittingly becomes an accomplice to the crime and, to his surprise, frees himself of his old demons through some curative face-slapping action.

Deviating from its forerunner in that there’s less psychotherapy happening here, "Analyze That" focuses more on Robert De Niro and the antics he’s made to perform, right from the charade of faking mental disability to slipping into varied skins of working professionals. Beginning on an almost ludicrous note, De Niro’s stern persona is given a drastic renovation when he’s made to play pansy and sing songs from "West Side Story". He excels at cynicism and the latter half of the film captures this better. If Billy Crystal got the smaller fraction of the frame, Lisa Kudrow, playing Laura Sobel, Ben’s wife, got an even smaller piece of pie.

The interface between doctor and patient is at its minimal, and even though the cast has tripled, the assortment adds to the confusion, and consequently to the comedy. Clichés abound, and situations and characters occur and appear in free space with no leads or significant contexts. Hardly a continuance of the central subject, this time its not the criminal that needs the counselor, but the counselor that has to keep tabs on the criminal.

All in all, "Analyze This" had the novelty and surprise that "Analyze That" does not, although there are still plenty of gags for some very funny moments. And this, predictably, may just be the last session.

This article was first published on 20 Jan 2003.