Suffering from writer's block and eagerly awaiting his writing award, Harry Block remembers events from his past and scenes from his best-selling books as characters, real and fictional, come back to haunt him.
Dishwasher and small-fry criminal Ray hits on a plan with his partners in crime to re-open a local pizza place and dig through to the bank down the street. As his wife can't cook pizza but does great cookies, that's what they sell. While the no-hope tunnellers get lost underground, the cookie operation really takes off and the team find themselves rich business people. But the other local money isn't quite ready to accept them. Written by
Jeremy Perkins <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Woody Allen claims he casted Tracey Ullman because it's one of the few comedians that makes him laugh. See more »
The box of "Belgian" chocolates in the opening scenes is clearly a box of Perugina chocolates, an Italian brand. See more »
I get a bad vibe about this guy, David. It's my street instinct, but I just don't trust him.
Yeah, I know why. Because he's younger than you are, handsomer than you are, he's much taller than you are, he's smarter than you are, he's much more exciting than you are...
May, don't feel obligated to pull any punches with me. I can take it.
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Like Mighty Aphrodite and Manhattan Murder Mystery, Small Time Crooks is the kind of movie Woody Allen would have made lots more of if he hadn't, in the post Annie Hall 1970s, started thinking of himself primarily as film auteur, rather than comedian. I count myself among those who are very glad he made the detour into Art that produced such original and challenging films as Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Husbands and Wives, and Deconstructing Harry. Small Time Crooks has a much lower level of ambition. Still, like most people in the audience at the showing I attended, I found much in it very amusing.
The film's comic plot starts out like Take the Money and Run revisited, but then takes a number of surprising turns. Along the way, Tracy Ullman, Elaine Stritch, and - especially - Elaine May all give scene-stealing performances. Early Woody one-liners and sight gags sparkle through the script (along with, unfortunately, a higher frequency of duds and chestnuts than in early Woody). Also adding an interesting dimension to the comedy is the influence of The Honeymooners on the relationship between Ray and Frenchie Winkler (Woody and Tracy) and on the film's fish-out-of-water class-based situation comedy. Woody has often professed his admiration for The Honeymooners, but this is the first film where he seems to have consciously reached for similar themes and effects.
On the down side, some of the plot twists seem downright arbitrary and amateurish, especially those involving Frenchie's comeuppance. Inadequate comic use is made of Ray's gang of losers (Jon Lovitz has one good line and too little screen time). And Hugh Grant as a Bluebeard wannabe is too much to ask of any audience. As to Woody himself .... what can you say? It's painful to watch his late career hardening of the comic arteries into stiff, unintentional self-parody. Let's hope the next Allen movie marks a return to high directorial ambition and low (as in "no") acting profile.
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