Small Time Crooks (2000) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG for language
Running Time: 94 min.
Cast: Woody Allen, Tracy Ullman, Elaine May, Hugh Grant, Michael Rapaport, Tony Darrow, Jon Lovitz, Elaine Stritch, Steve Kroft
Director: Woody Allen
Screenplay: Woody Allen
Review published March 25, 2007
Woody Allen (Antz, Deconstructing Harry) stars as Ray, a daft former two-bit con who itches to get back in the business after he concocts a scheme he is sure will work: he plans to buy a pizza parlor so that he and his cohorts can dig a tunnel under it in order to rob a nearby bank. To cover up their activities, Ray's wife, Frenchy (Ullman, Corpse Bride), sells cookies at the front of the store. Turns out that the cookie business booms, offering them much more money than the botched bank heist ever could, turning Frenchy into a multimillionaire corporate giant after she decides to franchise. They live the life of the nouveau riche, only to stick out among their peers for being woefully uncultured, which bothers Frenchy to no end. With the help of her new tutor, a successful art dealer named David (Grant, Notting Hill), Frenchy learns to be the refined woman she wants to be, but soon feels she's outgrown her lout of a husband along the way.
Small Time Crooks starts off like a bank heist caper similar to the Edward G. Robinson flick, Larceny Inc., before switching gears and turning into a comedy about unsophisticated people still can't fit in with well-bred upper class snobs, no matter how much money they amass. Actually, the film shifts gears more than that, turning into a Gigi-esque romance and a return to the swindle caper, but all the while, it retains its comic tone to deliver mild amusement and a few choice laughs.
Performances are the key to this slight Allen outing, with strong comedic performances by the female actresses, Ullman and May (California Suite, A New Leaf); the latter actress is the real crook, stealing most scenes she's in. Chipping in are fine character actors, including funny takes by Rapaport (Deep Blue Sea), Lovitz (Happiness), and Darrow (GoodFellas) as Ray's dim-bulb accomplices. Hugh Grant also delivers well in a mostly serious performance as Frenchy's mentor and would-be love interest late in the film.
Small Time Crooks is not prime Woody Allen material, but for 90 minutes of light comedy and entertaining performances, it is a good time for lovers of Woody Allen's fluffiest. Witty banter abound: Ray asks Frenchy, "What would you say if I told you that you were married to a very brilliant man? "I'd say, I'd have to be a bigamist", Frenchy retorts. The plotline meanders, playing out like two or three different ideas for stories jammed together end to end, but the old-fashioned slapstick and acute comedic characterizations are strong enough to carry the load over the many segues.
©2007 Vince Leo