Pin It
Favorite

Close Observation 

by Ray Pride


Asked to define comedy and tragedy, Mel Brooks famously observed that "tragedy is my hangnail, comedy is you falling into an open manhole on your head." Aggression makes for disconcerting comedy, as Adam Sandler, among contemporary practitioners, has profitably proven.


The sweetest laughs in Analyze That, the sequel to Harold Ramis' super-successful 1999 Billy Crystal-Robert DeNiro vehicle, come out of pure hostility. The set-up's familiar. Ordinarily, I abhor Crystal's screen presence as much as that of Rosie O'Donnell -- they're the kind of appalling narcissists who swing from the chandeliers, yelling, "Lookit! I love me! I love me!" But when paired by always-crafty writer-director Harold Ramis with DeNiro, in the first of his late-career send-ups of his trademark urban intensity, you could stomach the annoying schlub. It's a double-dip fish-out-of-water conceit: DeNiro's neurotic mob boss Paul Vitti (a parallel inspiration to David Chase's Tony Soprano) makes life very complicated for shrink Paul Sobol (Crystal). Add the comic gifts of Lisa Kudrow as his skeptical fiancee, and Analyze This was the kind of effortless satire that hit with audiences worldwide.


So a few years have passed. Vitti's in Sing Sing, annoyed by a television program that looks suspiciously like The Sopranos. Oh, and the sudden threats on his life. He's near the end of his sentence and gets himself sequestered by walking around his cell in a semi-catatonic stupor. Is Vitti having a nervous breakdown because of the pressures from a rival family, or is his odd behavior merely a canny ploy to get sprung from jail early? What's a mobster to do? Feign madness and sing "Maria" from West Side Story? Why not?


Enter the doc. Ben Sobel can't take the case, since his father just died; Vitti gets him on his cell phone during the service. Complications -- and prescription drugs -- ensue. Pressuring Sobel, the FBI insists he check out the mobster, running a battery of embarrassing and painful tests. The last time Sobel treated Vitti, he tried to get to the source of his debilitating anxiety attacks but barely scratched the surface. It'll take time to examine the conflicts still lurking in Vitti's mind and help put him on the straight and narrow -- time that Sobel doesn't want to spend. He's got his own identity crisis, personally and professionally, in grieving for his father. Furthermore, he knows Laura (Kudrow) will be furious if he allows the mercurial Vitti back into their lives.


Vitti is granted a conditional release into Sobel's custody, becoming his patient again and -- even worse -- the Sobels' houseguest. In order to get peace back in his life, the reluctant psychiatrist must help the troubled gangster sort out his psyche, find gainful employment and go straight. The good news is that Vitti finally appears to be sincere about taking the cure. And Sobel really wants to believe him. Enter sidekick Jelly (Joe Viterelli), followed by mobsters like Louie the Wrench and Cathy Moriarty-Gentile as the new Materfamilias of the family he intends not to return to.


While Ramis exploits the wild blue yonder of psychotherapy and identity issues like the first-rate smarty-pants he is, the biggest laughs come out of character, such as Vitti's attempts to work at jobs like maitre d' or jewelry salesman or car dealer. "C'mon," he says, "this trunk's perfect: you can fit three bodies in there!" The shared breakdowns and crackups of DeNiro and Crystal provide the most pro forma bits of comedy, including an embarrassing bit in a sushi restaurant where Crystal slurs his voice and baby-talks his way through a drinks-and-downers bit.


Yet when hostility rules the day, laughs fill the theater.

  • Pin It

Latest in News

  • Recall and Response
  • Recall and Response

    The attempt to remove Spokane Mayor David Condon from office may be a long shot, but he isn't taking any chances
    • Aug 25, 2016
  • Shades of Black Lives
  • Shades of Black Lives

    A Spokane County detective's Facebook post about Black Lives Matter sparks debate among local law enforcement
    • Aug 25, 2016
  • Fires Hit Home
  • Fires Hit Home

    Tens of thousands of acres burn around Spokane on Sunday and Monday; plus, DOJ weighs in on concerns over bail system
    • Aug 25, 2016
  • More »

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

Today | Fri | Sat | Sun | Mon | Tue | Wed
Art on the Street

Art on the Street @ Spokane Art School

Saturdays, 1-4 p.m. Continues through Aug. 27

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by Ray Pride

  • Cuts Like a Knife

    There's a question that must be asked about the third part of every trilogy: Is it necessary to see the first two films in order to enjoy the third one? In the case of Blade: Trinity, all you need to know about the previous episodes is that
    • Dec 10, 2004
  • Love Bites

    Love: the foremost four-letter word. Or at least it is in Mike Nichols' glossy yet stormy adaptation of Patrick Marber's 1997 world-weary hit play, Closer, which collates the most intense moments in the romantic lives of a quartet of modern-d
    • Dec 2, 2004
  • Sick Individuals

    I wanted to vomit. It's a learned reflex in this profession, looking away from the screen, but the premise of first-time director James Wan's Saw, a puzzle-game serial killer thriller -- described in the Sundance 2004 catalog as "indelible hor
    • Oct 28, 2004
  • More »

Most Commented On

  • 'Unreasonable Threat to Life and Property'

    Spokane's rental housing has problems, but landlord and tenant groups are split on a solution
    • Aug 11, 2016
  • 'End of Story'

    Condon administration aims to close the controversial Frank Straub chapter — but last week's scathing report has irrevocably changed the narrative
    • Aug 4, 2016
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • The Contenders
  • The Contenders

    Candidates have filed to run for office in Spokane. Here's what's at stake
    • May 20, 2015
  • Patrolling While Black
  • Patrolling While Black

    Gordon Grant's nearly 30 years as a Spokane cop have been affected by race, but that's not the whole story
    • Jul 8, 2015

© 2016 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation