Small Time Crooks

Movie Review #836: It’s just like any other Woody Allen movie, and among his better movies.

★★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

small_time_crooks

Comedy, Crime
Rated PG (contains profanity, suggestive dialogue)
94 minutes

“Small Time Crooks” opens with Hal Kemp’s “With Plenty of Money and You” and moseys on into a story about materialism. It starts more as a companion piece to “Take the Money and Run”, with the Woody Allen we know and love planning on returning to his life as a bank robber. His plan? For his wife Frenchy (Tracey Ullman) to front a cookie shop, while he and his friends are in the back drilling a hole in the wall. But the bank robbery proves unnecessary as a means of gettin’ rich fast. The cookies are selling like crazy, so much that his wife’s dodo cousin is hired to front the store with her. They’re on the news, and even the two of them are having trouble handling the masses that are gathering into their cookie store. They put a sandwich board outside the shop that says, “Limit: 3 cookies!” Within a year, they’re a worldwide franchise, and they’re filthy stinkin’ rich. But she worries she just has too much stuff and not enough class, and he doesn’t like being rich, after all.

“Small Time Crooks” was a 2000 release, and it proves a step up from Allen’s last two films.  In ’98, “Celebrity” was an unspeakable disaster, and while “Sweet and Lowdown”, the following year, was a significant step up, it was entertaining because of its charm, not its humor.  “Small Time Crooks” brings back that biting attitude we want in any Woody Allen movie. Save for the ever-annoying Jon Lovitz, the cast delivers the script wonderfully. Allen and Tracey Ullman are the perfect team here.  They can’t just agree to disagree.  On more occasions than I can count, the two begin volleying criticisms and complaints back and forth at each other.  We can routinely expect their bickering to end with Ullman shouting, “Oh, take a hike!”

When the cookie shop these two found becomes a worldwide success, there’s a five-minute interview segment inserted into the film.  It turns the film momentarily into a mockumentary, with a tongue-in-cheek look at how this small cookie shop turned into a major overnight success.  (I say once again, that this is likely a companion piece to Allen’s 1969 comedy, “Take the Money and Run”.)

I’ve seen every film Woody Allen has directed at this point (save for “Magic in the Moonlight”, in limited release this Friday), and by now I’m absolutely positive that every single one of his films is the exact same thing as the last one he made, yet all the while it’s completely different.  “Small Time Crooks” features an opening title in the Windsor typeface, neurotic characters, extramarital affairs, Manhattan, and possibly all the humanities. But there’s something different about it that sets it apart from everything else, and makes it one of his worthwhile features.

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