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If there's one man who can send up the Mafia and live to tell about it, it's Robert De Niro. After all, he's a made man -- from The Godfather to Goodfellas to Casino. And good thing too, because De Niro and director Harold Ramis send up the Mob big time in Analyze This.  

If you thought Bill Murray qualified as the therapy patient from hell in What About Bob? wait until you see De Niro as panic-stricken mobster Paul Vitti. Any resemblance between De Niro's portrayal of Vitti and John Gotti is purely on purpose. When Vitti loses his zest for killing, he fears he's only one step away from the proverbial cement overshoes. Luckily, his henchman Jelly (Joe Viterelli) has just met cute with psychotherapist Ben Sobel (Billy Crystal). Jelly brings boss and shrink together. Then the fun really begins. 

Sobel, on the verge of marriage to Laura MacNamara (Lisa Kudrow), wants no part of Vitti, but you try telling the Mob, "fergettaboutit." Vitti wants a cure and wants it fast. Sobel puts him in touch with his feelings and makes Vitti feel better for a while. But Sobel's "24-cure" feels good for only 24 hours, and Vitti's soon more sensitive and needy than ever. 

The movie's most winning when Crystal and De Niro share the screen. Their comedic chemistry sizzles.  

Crystal shines when he concentrates on playing doctor. His scenes with his patients are priceless and, for anyone who's ever endured therapy or provided it, right on the mark. But Crystal falls short when he attempts to out gangster the gangsters. 

De Niro plays his role straight, and that's what makes it so funny. He delivers an affectionate poke, never betraying his gangster-role roots. And when he finally lets go and resolves his father/son conflicts, well, you haven't seen an on-screen, emotional breakthrough like this in years. 

Kudrow, as the fiancee, doesn't have much to do but does it well. Viterelli glows as the loyal henchman, and Chazz Palminteri puts in a fine turn as the dapper, murdering boss. 

Great touches abound. De Niro wrings audience hysterics by getting weepy over a father/son Merrill Lynch™; commercial at exactly the wrong moment. At the same time, the John Gotti wardrobe and Dean Martin/Louis Prima soundtrack lend just the right edge of credibility to the goings-on.  

Therapy is most definitely on a roll. Woody Allen used it in his movies for years, and now we "know" Shakespeare was in therapy. It's not new even for the mob -- first with Grosse Pointe Blank and now television's The Sopranos. But who cares when it's this funny. 

Joan Fuchsman 

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