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  • Mob Psychiatry, Snuff Films and Cop Corruption
    A Critical Roundup of Recent Movies

    Blast Film Critic


    Robert De Niro is the godfather of acting, and not just for tough-guy roles. Be it "The Godfather, Part II," "GoodFellas," "The Untouchables," "Heat," "Raging Bull," "Casino," or "Cape Fear," De Niro proves he can be street-smart, cool and silky smooth, or just plain animalistic - or a complex mixture of these qualities.

    Now he turns up a mob soldier (again!) in the comedy "Analyze This" and his flair for tickling the funny bone somehow becomes a revelation. It shouldn't.

    De Niro's always been good at playing comedy on several levels. In "Midnight Run," he plays straight-man bounty hunter to the neurotic and annoying Charles Grodin, a buddy-film pairing that proved funny and even somewhat touching. "Wag the Dog," which featured De Niro as a behind-the-scenes White House spin doctor, demonstrated his knack for dead-on political satire. De Niro's take as incompetent stand-up Rupert Pupkin in the under appreciated black comedy "King of Comedy" quietly brought out the character's underlying pathological creepiness.

    In "Analyze This," DeNiro plays Paul Viti, a career Mafioso who one day chokes when he tries to whack some punk in the head with a pipe. Later he has a panic attack. One thing leads to another, yada yada yada, and Viti finds himself on the couch of Dr. Ben Sobol (Billy Crystal). Viti realizes he can't have these anxiety attacks, especially with a major mob meeting coming up, so he wants treatment, fast. Sobol offers to help, partly because he sees Viti really needs it - but mostly out of fear that his legs might be cracked with a baseball bat.

    The film, directed by Harold Ramis ("Groundhog Day"), is essentially a two-bit joke stretched over two hours. All the mob movie motifs are thrown in, not like cheap hand-me-down cliches, but with an aura of authenticity. Several actors who have popped up in "GoodFellas" and other Mafia flicks have a role in "Analyze This." The mannerisms, the threads, the joints, they all feel real.

    But combine that Crystal's sensitive Manhattan head shrink. With any other actors or talent, the film would be an overlong "Saturday Night Live" skit. But here, De Niro and Crystal (the script's brisk pace) maintain a level of yuks that keeps the film entertaining. Even when you can see some plot points miles in advance - a mob hit gone bad, a therapy exercise gone out of control - these actors always give a line or two that punctuates the jokes. In one quick hit, Viti warns the doctor after their first awkward touchy-feely session: "You make me a fag and you're dead!"

    "Analyze This" is not perfect and some jokes fall on their face. There are gaps in the film when not much happens. But if you're looking for something light, check this out.

    GRADE: B


    Nicolas Cage really hasn't turned in a good performance since his drunken turn in "Leaving Las Vegas." And, let's face it, director Joel Schumacher's dreadfully flamboyant "Batman and Robin" made you wish the Dark Knight stayed in the funny pages where is belongs.

    Now they have teamed up to gives us "8MM," a tale about a private detective's descent into the dark underworld of hardcore S&M porn. Together, they turn in a collective effort that brings the viewer through a seedy place where perversions are a facet of life. It is disturbing and it creeps under your skin. Although there's not a lot of actual footage in the film showing explicit sex and violence, the mood and look of "8MM" is enough to make one's stomach turn. There are hints of snuff cinema, rape fantasies, the like. If you can't take it, don't see it.

    Cage plays detective Tom Wells. He's hired by the widow of an industrial magnate after she finds a disturbing movie reel in her husband's safe. It appears to show a young woman violently slashed to death. Wells job is find out if it's a real snuff film or a fake. The widow wants her ease her conscious with the truth about her husband's private peccadilloes.

    The film, written by "Seven" scripter Andrew Kevin Walker, captures the idea of some sinister underworld, with a lot of scenes filmed in black and gray. And as Wells digs deeper into the mysterious origins of the film, he uncovers increasingly disturbing facts. He learns that the girl in the film ran away from home, went to Hollywood to break into films, took an unfortunate turn into porn and then disappeared.

    As Wells enters this world where nasty porn sells like cheap fares at a hellish flea market, this sub culture slowly consumes him. His phone calls home to his wife and baby become less frequent. He befriends a porn store clerk who guides him through the darkness. Without giving too much away, let's just say he's drawn to the edge of sanity as he sort of becomes that which he dreads.

    The film succeeds in drawing us into this character arc, of a happy family man who descends into a nightmare of a murderous underworld and himself becomes part of the madness. Cage is effective at bringing a tenderness early on in the film and at expressing a pained soul at the movie's zenith. Some of the overacting of such films as "Face/Off" and "Snake Eyes" are turned down a notch here.

    But the movie is about a sleazy place in society, and people will mistakenly think that makes the film sleazy itself. I give the film a marginal recommendation at its mere ability to paint Cage's path in the film, but hesitate to proclaim you'll have a fine time at the theater after seeing this. You won't. In fact, if you're like me, you'll feel like you need a bath.

    GRADE: C+


    Chow Yun-Fat can take just about any film and make it better. In his Hong Kong films, Chow played a number of different character types with a range of emotion: In "The Killer," he plays a hit man who falls in love with a woman trapped in a world he's trying to escape. His wounded gangster in "A Better Tomorrow" displays a cool vengeance. Chow has an ability to take a simple character and make it complex.

    In "The Corruptor," Chow is New York police detective Nick Chen, a media hero who helps keep law and order in Chinatown. He is given a young, white rookie named Dennis Wallace (played by "Boogie Nights'" Mark Wahlberg) to work with, as the cops try to crack down on an Asian gang called the Fukianese, or Fooks for short.

    But there's more to Chen: He's not completely clean. He knows some shady characters in Chinatown, old-school benevolent types who control these young hoods. Part of the reason Chen carries such power in Chinatown is because he has the right connections there.

    Wallace comes in to do a job - enforce the law and clean up Chinatown. At first an uneasy trust builds between Wallace and Chen. As the film progresses, we see how certain corrupting influences affect how they do their job in Chinatown. Wallace, meanwhile, uncovers an immigrant porn operation and becomes a hero.

    The bad-guy roles in this film are weak and if you're expecting your typical cops-vs.-crooks formula, don't look here. No, the focus here is clearly the relationship between the veteran cop who has gone somewhat astray in his vow to fight crime, and the green rookie whose own professional mission is on a crash course with Chen.

    This leads to some dynamic chemistry on film. But mostly the film thrives on some too-easy bad-cop cliches - dirty money, crooked friends, shady dealings. There are four or five well-executed action sequences, deftly edited and paced just right. In a car chase that could give "Ronin" a run for its money, Chow and Wahlberg go after Chinese gangsters through the streets of New York; pedestrians and street commuters become innocent victims of the bullet-ridden melee. That scene ends with some intense suspense, as Chen sits pinned in his car (You'll have to see how it all ends up).

    The film is standard cop actioner stuff but the one ingredient that keeps the film compelling is Chow. Sure, he's not a straight arrow. He does things his own way and he's not squeaky clean. The FBI has its eyes on him and the mob bosses have their hand in Chen's pocket. But he's not evil. There's a caring side to his character, evidence by a friendship he strikes with a local prostitute. This veteran cop seems to have realized where it all went wrong for him and tries to make some redemption, much like Kevin Spacey's cop character in "L.A. Confidential."

    Wallace, for his part, is also more complex than appears at first. There's a revelation for his character late in the film that changes the dynamic of the movie, for the better of the narrative. Now the story has acquired some momentum. For some viewers this relief may come too late. But for me, it just added to the compelling narrative.

    There is a final showdown at the end, where Chen and Wallace take on the bad guys. It has an ending that completes their characters, giving Chen his redemption; Wallace's path comes full circle.

    The movie is not perfect and a lot of the film echoes some of the gritty urban cop flicks of the past. Director James Foley ("Glengarry Glenross") does an adequate job piecing together what could've been simply standard film fare. Chow, however, gives the film life. He has more dialogue here than he did in his American film debut "The Replacement Killers," more personality, and he hasn't lost any of his cool. That's good enough reason for any Chow fan to check this out.

    GRADE: B-