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I doubt if many people share this sentiment, but this is my favorite
Woody Allen movie simply because it does what Allen usually sets out to
do: makes me laugh. I'm not a big fan of Allen's films but he and
Tracey Ullman make a great pair in this 95-minute farce. Ullman has to
be one of the most talented ladies to never achieve real movie stardom.
She matches Allen laugh-for-laugh in here and, in some respects, even
steals the show.
Other than Allen's penchant for using the Lord's name in vain, this has a real classic-film feel to it, one of those old bickering spouse films but with more modern-day humor. Allen and Ullman trade some very funny insults, and there are many of these quality gags. Ullman is just plain hilarious as the bimbo-like "Frenchy."
Add a gigolo (Hugh Grant), a couple of inept crooks, a couple of old-time Elaine favorites, Strich and May, and a pretty funny premise and you have some good entertainment and an underrated Allen film.
Though essentially a time-marking throwaway by writer/director Woody Allen,
`Small Time Crooks' provides so many gems of performance that one can
overlook the film's derivative plotting and overall lack of comic drive. In
this film, Allen more or less abandons his customary obsession with big city
neuroses and middle-aged angst in favor of a more straightforward,
plot-driven comedy, paying homage in its patchwork and eclectic story to any
number of earlier well-known theatrical and cinematic works.
For example, the first half hour of the movie plays like a stateside version of the 1950's Italian comedy `Big Deal on Madonna Street' as a team of bumbling, far-from-intelligent small time crooks, led by ex-con Ray Winkler (Allen), sets up a cookie store as a `front' so they can drill a tunnel into a bank a mere two or three shops down the road. Then the plot of the film suddenly shifts gears when that plan falls apart and the gang hits pay dirt with the surprising success of the cookies that Ray's uncultured but well meaning wife, the former topless dancer Frenchy (Tracey Ullman), is assiduously baking and selling. The highlight of the film comes in the form of a brilliantly satiric pseudo-60 Minutes report in which Steve Kroft himself chronicles the meteoric rise that this ragtag collection of accidental entrepreneurs takes from obscure small business owners to multi-million dollar corporate giants a report that pokes affectionate fun at the clichéd rags-to-riches theme so essential to our concept of the beloved American Dream.
With this plot switch, we leave Madonna Street and head into `Unsinkable Molly Brown/Pygmalion/Educating Rita' territory as the vulgar, uncouth Frenchy realizes that, even with all her suddenly acquired wealth, she cannot possibly gain true acceptance from the elite cultural snobs she so desperately wants to impress without a little assistance from her own personal Henry Higgins, who arrives in the form of an art dealer named David played by the suave Hugh Grant. Thus, as Frenchy branches out and begins to open herself up to new cultural experiences, the couple begins to drift apart as Ray comes to crave the return to the simpler life of spaghetti and meatball dinners he knows they have left far behind.
Had Allen been able to sustain the cleverness and bite that inform that `60 Minutes' segment throughout the length of the entire film, `Small Time Crooks' might have emerged as more than just the mere piece of entertaining puffery it ultimately is. Indeed, we find ourselves laughing only occasionally and often at jokes or sight gags that would barely register a chuckle in one of Allen's more sophisticated, more edgy and more character-driven works. Special note must, however, be made of some of the actors, prime among them Ullman and the always brilliant Elaine May who, as Frenchy's adenoidal, utterly befuddled and endearingly obtuse cousin, returns to her `A New Leaf' roots and provides some of the sweetest comic moments in the film. Unfortunately, Michael Rapaport, Tony Darrow and Jon Lovitz, as members of Ray's gang, though they all three give outstanding performances, aren't given enough screen time to really let their talents for comic characterization take flight. Hugh Grant is essentially Hugh Grant which is to say that he fulfills the requirements of his part without having to stretch his thespian muscles too much.
The success or failure of a comedy is ultimately determined by how often it is able to elicit laughs from the person watching it. Given that criterion, `Small Time Crooks' rates no better than a mild recommendation (though there is one very funny scene involving safecracking near the end of the film). Yet, if for no other reason than to relish a number of its dazzling performances, `Small Time Crooks' certainly earns at least a casual once-over from any Allen devotee. Guess we have no choice but to mark time right along with him!
"Small Time Crooks" is the latest movie from Woody Allen, and it will likely
be seen by the same people who go see all of his other movie (myself
included) but will likely not branch out far from there. It's funny, and
Allen fans will enjoy it, but it's certainly not an outstanding
Allen plays Ray, a schlub living in New York who concocts a crazy scene to rob a bank. It involves a cookie store, a tunnel, and lots of drilling. It also stirs up one of the two out-and-out hilarious sequences in the movie.
After the digging sequence, the film takes an unexpected turn (which I will let you discover for yourself), and the section immediately following the "One Year Later" card is the best of the film. Sadly, the brilliant media satire and perfect lines are not repeated again in the film. for the remaining hour.
A lot of people have commented how this is Woody getting back to his roots. Certainly the film starts off like a lot of his early works, and the premise certainly shares a good deal with Take the Money and Run, but I would not put Small Time Crooks on the same level as that film, one of my favorite comedies. While it's certainly a lighter film than his later works, Allen just doesn't have the same bizarre gags and total disregard for reality that the early works had. That insane-genius-laughing-at-us-all energy is missing.
Still, the film looks great and the cast is especially good. I'm sorry we didn't get to see more of Michael Rappaport and John Lovitz, who sadly only appear in the first portion of the film.
Again, the movie isn't bad, it's just no Take the Money and Run. Recommended for Woody fans, but I wouldn't say expect the old master here, rather expect an older master doing his best to relive those early greats.
SMALL TIME CROOKS / (2000) ***
Woody Allen's artistic sense of humor is the perfect style of wit for the timid new comedy "Small Time Crooks." Allen wrote and directed the film, which is pure Allen. This amusing filmmaker brings a focused sensation of clumsiness and silliness to the various ensemble of characters; this movie is classy, sharp, and funny.
Woody Allen stars as an ex-con named Ray Winkler, currently employed as a local dishwasher. He is the kind of person who comes up with maniac ideas he explains as beneficial, but they end up causing more grief than gratitude. His mangy wife Frenchy (Tracey Ullman) is sick of her loser lifestyle, so when Ray proposes to burglarize a nearby bank with his old buddies, including Denny (Michael Rapaport), Tommy (Tony Darrow), and Benny (Jon Lovitz), she reluctantly agrees.
Ray comes up with a scheme that consists of renting a storefront next to the bank in order to tunnel a passage way into their destination. To avoid suspicion, Frenchy and her cousin May (Elaine May) open a bakery offering cookies as the four criminals screw everything up in the basement. The cookie sales unexpectedly become a massive achievement, leading to the characters opening up a corporation that makes them rich.
The film's setup introduces the main characters with intelligent humor and riffraff detail. We learn they are unintelligent, desperate, and deprived nobodies living in unmistakable poverty without purpose or hope of a decent future. Also decently developed is the story, with a clear, stable first act and early laughs to capture the audience's attention from the start. This is the kind of movie that relies on situations to pull its characters through the story, and Allen gives the script fresh twists, active subplots, and creativity.
"Small Time Crooks" is a character movie; a study of well-acted personas given funny edge and dimension. The characters are dazzlingly portrayed by some of the most clever names in Hollywood. Woody Allen rehearses his basic charismatic personality that we all know and love, and brackets himself between witty dialogue and well-cast supporting actors. Tracey Ullman is perfect in a role seemingly prepared towards her performance and Hugh Grant's false charming tenderness creates a despicable image in which the audience opposes but enjoys.
The movie's story clearly exhibits the life of Ray and Frenchy, which is probably the smartest level in which it succeeds. We see gradual changes in the two as the story uses side characters as benchmarks that help to propel the plot along. There is minute tension involved with Ray and his spouse, however, although the Hugh Grant character provides a little romantic competition. If I had to change something in this movie, I would increase the level of the story's stakes and change the horridly annoying soundtrack.
Too much of this movie relies on dialogue to pull itself through story slouches; at times the plot seems to drift and the character end up explaining developments and advancements. "Small Time Crooks" does not suffer to immensely in result of this material because Woody Allen often supports his dialogue with visual story and amusing conversations that look as if especially written for each character in each scene.
"Small Time Crooks" furnishes seeking audiences with effective comedy. So often we desire for comic adventures only to find contrived and recycled humor in stale stories. This film succeeds in perspiring light-hearted humor with a surprising human dimensional touch. "Small Time Crooks" will not disappoint fans of Woody Allen's gawky sense of humor.
Woody Allen essentially makes two kind of movies: comedy and movies about relationships. His very first movies were slapstick comedies and then once in a while, after Annie Hall, he made a comedy or two. Small Time Crooks is one of his lesser movies, not on quality but more on terms of release. Small Time Crooks was pretty much ignored on its release.
Allen plays Ray Winkler, officially the world's lamest looking criminal. Allen and his friends (Michael Rapaport, Tony Darrow) plan to break into a bank and get rich. How? Well, it's a complicated plan. Ray's wife, Frenchy, (Tracey Ullman) is to rent a pizza shop and make cookies as a coverup for the men drilling in the basement. However, to Ray's disarray, the pizza shop is already rented out. Ray checks it out and realises that he knows the guy who rented it. Turns out they were cellmates. The guy (Jon Lovitz) joins them into the plan. Ray turns out to be a huge dumbass and can't make the tunnel under the bank. On top, however, Frenchy is having a huge success with her cookies. She hires her cousin May (Elaine May) to help her. The timeline then jumps a year and Ray and Frenchy have become extremely wealthy. They own a huge chain of cookie shops and are now part of the nouveau rich. They meet with David (Hugh Grant), whom Frenchy hires to teach her about culture. Without revealing more, let's just say it screwed up.
Woody is his usual, neurotic self and as usual gives a solid if unimpressive performance. Ullman, as his stripper-turned-cookie-mogul wife, is very good and very funny. It's a shame she isn't in movies more. The rest of the cast is also good, with standouts being Elaine May and Jon Lovitz even though he's not on screen very long.
Small Time Crooks starts out as a funny, slapstick comedy but then takes a turn when they become rich. Now, the title is Small Time Crooks. I was expecting some crookery. I saw some crookery, but not enough. It should have been called Cookie Mogul or something. I realises that it wouldn't have been very good as an all-out caper comedy but about 20 minutes of more crookery wouldn't have hurt. There's also the fact that this movie lags at times, enough to hurt it. And Hugh Grant is unimpressive in a role that could've been more.
Woody Allen is an acquired taste. You may not like it or you may worship it. Small Time Crooks is actually a good way of getting introduced to Allen. 7/10
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
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.
I would have never expected a movie like "Small Time Crooks", but one would have to imagine that it could only come from Woody Allen. He plays loser Ray Winkler, who plans to pull off a big heist. But of course, he needs a cover. So, his wife Frenchy (Tracey Ullman) opens a cookie shop above the tunnel that Ray is digging, and lo and behold, the cookie shop is a smash hit, and they never pull off the heist! A year later, Ray and Frenchy are fabulously wealthy, to the point where "60 Minutes" reporter Steve Krofft interviews them. But this all starts exposing the problems in their lives. Maybe crime would have paid after all! Above all, this movie shows that Woody Allen does best when just going for straight comedy. I would say that this was his funniest movie since "Mighty Aphrodite". Also starring are Elaine May, Jon Lovitz and Hugh Grant. You're sure to like it.
I thoroughly enjoy watching Small Time Crooks over and over again because the humor is so goofy, yet so timeless. This is classic material, derived from the style of comedy that Woody so loves...the old masters, the Marx Bros. and other old-time greats. I recommend it to everyone.
My own theory about Woody is that he makes films for himself only. Recently
I saw `Sweet and Lowdown' and think it one of the most multidimensionally
complex, introspective films I've ever seen. I also saw `Crimes and
Misdemeanors,' and thought he was working with ideas too big for his skills.
Rather like the character Woody plays in this film.
In fact `Sweet' was successful because the actor (Sean Penn) was able to convey a Woody that had some natural skill, who in his heart knew he was secondrate, and who also had publicly criticized eccentricities. Penn could convey that Woody. Woody could never, and that's the root of the problem with this film.
There're two types of New Yorkers. Those with class and those without, regardless of fame and wealth. Woody pokes fun at himself here for his own benefit. But for us viewers, there's not much here, and except for a few skits, there are few laughs.
But chances are that if you are reading this, you're going to or have seen this anyway. If so, isn't May a gas? She's one of those aristocrats of comedy, and there's a double joke here. She plays the dimmest wit, though in real life, she would be the top cookie. And she had a meteoric rise in Hollywood until writing/directing `Ishtar' with two of the then biggest stars. It was the biggest flop in history until `Waterworld,' and even then WW made money.
Having her in this fable of up/down and having her steal every scene is so sweet.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
To me, Woody Allen is at his best when he makes us laugh and cry at the same time. When I first saw this film in the movie theatre, I found it thoroughly entertaining, but more in the same vein as his "early funny ones" than his later, deeper work (Crimes & Misdemeanors, Husbands & Wives and the like). Upon repeated viewing, though, I realised I had been wrong. It is light-hearted and funny on the surface, but much much deeper than it first seems. It has really grown on me since and has become one of my favourites. The cast are all superb, from Tracey Ullman to Hugh Grant, even Woody gives one of his best performances of his career. Highly recommended for both fans of Woody's funny ones and of his more serious dramas.
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