Small Time Crooks Movie Review

Woody Allen always does his best work when he's both in front of and behind the camera. Small Time Crooks give us Woody once again as the star, once again making us laugh by proving that he and only he knows how to deliver the exact and peculiar cadence of his written humor.

An unabashed comedic fable, Small Time Crooks presents Woody as Ray Winkler, an ex-con living in a New York rathole and scraping by as a dishwasher. His wife Frenchy (Tracy Ullman) does nails by day, gives Ray a whole lot of lip by night. And when Ray comes home with a new "master plan" that promises to make them rich so they can retire to Florida (the dream to end all dreams in Small Time Crooks), Frenchy becomes a reluctant partner.

The plan is this: Rent out the closed shop two doors down from a big bank. Then tunnel underneath and into the bank, making off with the cash. Ray enlists his pals (including Michael Rapaport and Jon Lovitz) and the plan is launched. Frenchy fronts the shop with a cookie business, which the fellas dig their tunnel. It isn't giving too much away to tell you that the bank robbery plan goes bust, while the cookie business front becomes a smash success. And that's just the beginning of the fun.

Small Time Crooks marks a return to fine form for Allen, who hasn't really dazzled me in a long while. While it hardly carries the depth of, say, Annie Hall or Hannah and Her Sisters, Crooks is the flat-out, wry, New York, Woody Allen-neurosis humor that we remember so fondly.

As its star, it's oddly disconcerting for Allen to be playing such a schlub. Ray has no class whatsoever and is extremely stupid, despite his prison nickname of "the brain" -- which Lovitz's character goes to pains to point out was "sarcastic." Woody Allen is a real-life sophisticate, and though his character has all the obsessions you'd expect, the man is a bit too smart to pull off a character this dumb.

Ullman, on the other hand, really develops her role far beyond its opening volley as a mere Julie Kavner understudy. Taking the trampy, former-stripper ditz character and breathing in layers of nuance into the role is inspired acting. I've never been a huge fan of Ullman's, but this movie may make me a convert. Also of note, Hugh Grant has a memorable and dryly funny part as a "Dr. Dolittle" type who later takes Frenchy on as a student of the high life.

Acting aside, Crooks ultimately succeeds on the strength of a wickedly hilarious script that proves Woody still has his funny bone. This isn't some art-house comedy for high-society types, it's a genuine crowd-pleaser that you can't help but enjoy.


Small Time Crooks Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: PG, 2000


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