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Overall Rating

Awesome: 4.41%
Worth A Look45.59%
Average: 44.12%
Pretty Bad: 2.94%
Total Crap: 2.94%

6 reviews, 32 user ratings

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Small Time Crooks
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Not great Woody, but still good."
4 stars

Woody Allen's 'Small Time Crooks' is undoubtedly his biggest financial success in years -- $11 million as of its third weekend -- and having seen it, I can understand why: It's very amiable and very broad.

Gone is the venom of Deconstructing Harry, the insider satire of Celebrity, the fancy structure of Mighty Aphrodite and Sweet and Lowdown -- all recent Woody flops. Somewhere in the middle of Small Time Crooks, a cookie mogul explains the success of a rival cookie tycoon: all you have to do is make a product the public wants. Small Time Crooks is a pretty good cookie.

Woody downscales his IQ to play Ray Winkler, a former (and inept) criminal turned dishwasher. Ray has a scheme to rob a bank: he'll purchase an abandoned storefront nearby, and dig a tunnel up into the bank. Ray's wife Frenchy (Tracey Ullman) can't believe what she's hearing, but eventually she goes along with it, running a cookie business out front while Ray and his cronies (the hilarious trio of Jon Lovitz, Michael Rapaport, and Tony Darrow) drill away in the basement.

From this slapsticky farce, complete with gushing water mains and wrong tunnel turns, Small Time Crooks takes an abrupt, hard left into social criticism. I'd so enjoyed the acting teamwork of the four bumbling thieves, capably abetted by Ullman's derisive Frenchy and Elaine May as her spacey cousin May, that the second half of the film came as a slight letdown. The jokes keep coming, but this time they're at the expense of the rich snobs Ray and Frenchy find themselves among when their cookie business unexpectedly turns into a gold mine.

Frenchy wants to become part of high society, and gets lessons in art and culture from a slick art dealer (Hugh Grant, returning to the aristocratic-bastard roles he used to play before he became a dithering marquee name). Ray can't stand the pretense and glitz of the upscale New York life -- he yearns to move to Miami, fill up on cheeseburgers and beer, and hit the racetrack every day. Perhaps part of the secret of the movie's success is that it tells the rest of the country that the high life in the Big Apple -- always held up for envy -- isn't worth aspiring to.

We've seen much of this before; it feels like a half-remembered episode of The Honeymooners where Ralph and Alice strike it rich and find that money can't buy happiness. (I'm not sure if there ever was such an episode, but other sitcoms have done it; in any event, Woody explicitly makes this movie an homage to Jackie Gleason and company.) The movie focuses on how money changes (or doesn't change) Ray and Frenchy, but I wanted to see more of Ray's cronies, who get absorbed into the cookie company as executive officers. And come to think of it, doesn't Frenchy have any friends? We never see any besides her cousin May.

We're glad the cousin is around, though, because Elaine May -- a screenwriter these last few decades, who has done very little performing since her stage days with Mike Nichols -- swipes the movie right out from under Allen and Ullman. (Call her a big-time crook.) Whether she's giving a weather report to baffled stuffed shirts at a dinner party or blurting out secrets to a camera crew, Cousin May is completely herself, despite her large share in the cookie profits. She's the same person; she just has a nicer apartment now.

Unlike Frenchy, May has no aspirations to loftier things; unlike Ray, she's comfortable with her wealth. So she emerges as the movie's slightly daffy hero, and Elaine May gives a quietly heroic comic performance to match. She's the mint in this particular cookie.

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originally posted: 01/14/07 14:38:29
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User Comments

5/29/09 mr.mike Ullman and May made the movie. 4 stars
11/23/08 Samantha Pruitt a light comedy, pretty funny still, woody does a lot of physical comedy 4 stars
9/10/06 DK amusing but hardly memorable. watched it last week and already it has escaped me! 3 stars
9/08/05 Phil M. Aficionado Like the glass necklace, it sparkles for a while but doesn't hold up 3 stars
4/26/05 Indrid Cold Almost interchangeable with "Jade Scorpion"; very bland and unfunny. 3 stars
11/27/04 HL Occassional dose of Woody can't be bad! 4 stars
9/29/03 JohnnyXXX I've seen this movie a dozen times. Tracy Ullman is awesome!!! 5 stars
9/27/03 Ingo Truly funny - and it looks soo easy... 4 stars
7/07/03 Jack Sommersby Woody should do 1 good film every 2 yrs. instead of a subpar one every year. 2 stars
6/18/03 Andrew Callaway Less than average for Woody Allen. 3 stars
4/19/03 Ubu the Ripper A little better than Jade Scorpion. 4 stars
9/03/02 AshFan The beginning is so funny, it doesn't matter that the rest is kinda bad. 4 stars
7/22/02 spyguy2 Couple of laughs...Ullman is really good, Allen stretching a little but not much. 3 stars
1/02/02 Andrew Carden Nothing Like An "Allen" Film. Unfunny and Totally Mindless. 1 stars
11/02/01 Hum fun, but nothing special 3 stars
7/31/01 Elvisfan Enough funny lines/actors/situations for six movies..nice return to fun, Woody! 5 stars
3/08/01 Trashstar Provided a quiet chuckle here and there. 3 stars
2/21/01 Pierce Lanson Some very funny bits, good lines, loved Elaine May 4 stars
1/06/01 tnt enjoyable...far from his best though 3 stars
12/29/00 The Bomb 69 funny stuff, Elaine May was amazing and I laughed throughout 4 stars
12/28/00 Monday Morning Frothy but funny. The Wood-man's reactions & expressions are A-1. 4 stars
7/07/00 Politicsman Recalls Bananas and Take The Money & Run. But the cookie thing was done by Albert Brooks! 4 stars
6/13/00 DAVID Bettter than last Allen's film. This movie looses its comedy after the first 25 mins 4 stars
6/01/00 PJ I'm sorry but Woody Allen cannot go wrong, this movie was funny as hell, and Elaine May wow 4 stars
5/30/00 Zatoichi Jones Cute and funny. 3 stars
5/29/00 I found this film irritating and stupid. Woody was annoyingly nervous and contrived. 2 stars
5/27/00 PhilmPhreak Woody Allen should NOT have been in this movie. 3 stars
5/25/00 Heather Very funny movie, full of great one-liners 5 stars
5/25/00 tom rush horrible 1 stars
5/21/00 Captain Highcrime Woody Allen is NO Jackie Gleason, dammit. 3 stars
5/21/00 john c smith light , no big deal ... fun 4 stars
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  19-May-2000 (PG)


  25-Jan-2001 (M)

Directed by
  Woody Allen

Written by
  Woody Allen

  Woody Allen
  Hugh Grant
  Jon Lovitz
  Michael Rapaport
  George Grizzard
  Tracey Ullman

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