March 05, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

”I go fag, you die,” Paul Vitti (Robert De Niro) persuasively cautions Ben Sobol (Billy Crystal), the mild-mannered psychiatrist with the unenviable job of treating the gangster’s anxiety attacks in ”Analyze This.” Make no mistake: Vitti has no problem offing troublemakers, and if he’s too busy, there’s always his faithful bodyguard (massive Joe Viterelli, a deadpan delight). But as De Niro delivers the line, puffed with swagger and pain, all the coiled volatility that is the star’s trademark — the same access to violence that makes him such a quintessential goodfella — benefits a buoyantly funny, generous homage to psychotherapy. And De Niro’s the emotionally healthier for it, too.

It is, perhaps, untidy that ”Analyze This” trails the powerful HBO series ”The Sopranos” in exploring the irresistible high concept of a mobster in need of a shrink, a setting in which OCD stands for both Organized-Crime Division and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Fugeddaboudit. As directed and cowritten by ”Groundhog Day” ‘s Harold Ramis — himself a satisfied psychotherapy customer — the movie quickly stakes out its own humanistic ground, giving Ben a competitive father (Bill Macy), a practical fiancée (Lisa Kudrow, well cast in a small role), and an unneurotic son (Kyle Sahiby). The result: Crystal turns in his best (read: least sappy) performance in ages, getting through an entire movie — most of it, anyway — without mugging.

Or maybe he’s just awed by his formidable costar into keeping the shtick under control. It’s Bobby’s world here, no doubt about it, and as he swings loose and sure (as he did in ”Wag the Dog”), every past image we’ve ever cherished of the actor only adds to our enjoyment of his sly performance. As a Mob boss who may run a crime family but who’s still got unresolved feelings about his own offed dad, Vitti’s got agita, but De Niro is his own best friend.

type
Movie
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mpaa
R
director
Roger Kumble
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