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DVDs: SHRINK RAPPED; JESSICA MELLOR on an odd couple... De Niro can switch from menacing macho man to jovial joker in the blink of an eye.

Byline: JESSICA MELLOR

ANALYZE THAT (15, Rental/VHS pounds 12.99/DVD pounds 15.99)

On paper, the pairing of Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal seems an odd one. But on screen these two very different, but equally experienced, actors bounce off each other wonderfully. And their first comedy together, 1999's Analyze This, proved this strange partnership was box office gold.

Such a winner was bound to spawn a sequel and Analyze That duly arrived on the big screen last year. I'm glad to say it's as funny as the first.

De Niro is tough mobster Paul Vitti who, since the last film, has been wallowing in Sing Sing, New York's notorious maximum security prison. He seems to rule the roost, but when accidents start following him around he begins to fear for his life and wants a quick way out.

So Vitti pleads insanity by turning into an extra from West Side Story, constantly singing show tunes until his therapist and reluctant pal Ben Sobel (Crystal) comes to vouch for his supposedly dodgy state of mind.

The twist is that the FBI actually believe Vitti is more use to them back on the streets where there is a war brewing between two rival Mafia gangs. They reason that by putting Vitti in the thick of it, he will force someone's hand.

So they entrust him to Sobel, much to the shrink's dismay, and then leave them to it.

Understandably, Sobel's wife Laura (Lisa Kudrow) is at her wits' end having an obnoxious gangster in the house. And however much Sobel tries to get Vitti to go straight and find an honest job, he just can't stand life as a car salesman or a waiter.

So there's only one thing Vitti can do - cover up his gangster activities by getting a gig as a Mafia advisor on a corny TV series and getting his old gang back together.

The reason De Niro is perfect for the role of misunderstood mob boss Vitti is that he switches from menacing macho man to jovial joker in a blink of an eye. In his long and prosperous career, he has consistently shown that he is comfortable in whatever skin is offered to him.

Crystal is, of course, doing what he does best, playing the very funny, self-deprecating, successful yet neurotic therapist.

Kudrow doesn't have to do much more than she does as Pheobe in Friends, and is ultimately rather under-used. It's a shame because I like excitable, kooky Pheobe a lot and, if that's all Kudrow can be, at least let her loose in this persona once in a while.

Analyze That is far from perfect and, while the plot isn't too see-through, the jokes unfortunately are. It emerges as a funny flick, but not the hilarious hit it might have been.

This is probably down to the Hollywood style of formulaic film-making and the reluctance to tinker with a winning blueprint - just get it out there to the adoring masses.

With extra time together, and probably spending less money, I'm sure De Niro and Crystal could really give us something to laugh about.

CAPTION(S):

COUCH POTATO: De Niro (right) and Crystal are back in the consulting room alongside Lisa Kudrow (top right)
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 12, 2003
Words:542
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