by Paula Farmer
Done in a manner similar to, but not as good as Take the Money and Run and Bananas, Small Time Crooks will still delight most audiences. In Woody Allen’s latest comedy, the emphasis is on Ray (Woody) and his wife Frenchie (Tracey Ullman) fronting a cookie shop in a ridiculous bank robbery scam.
Ray, a petty, once-imprisoned criminal, has given up a life of crime at the insistence of his manicurist wife. But she gives in to the bank scheme because he has appealed to her nagging desire to go from rags to riches.
Ray’s partners in crime include like-minded idiots played by Michael Rappaport and Jon Lovitz. Their lame but humorous attempt to tunnel from the cookie store to the bank in hopes of robbing it turns out to be a fiasco.
Fortunately for them, while Frenchie has gone into a baking frenzy as their cover, her cookies have become a sensation and they’re all legitimately catapulted to the land of the nouveau riche. The film’s title may lead one to think that the bank robbery scam is the whole plot, but it only serves to drive the real story which concerns Ray and Frenchie reaching their financial goals, only to drift apart. Once Ray realizes the pleasure was in the journey to wealth, not in the destination, he resents his wife’s attempts to be someone she’s not, and longs for the old days of lower-class struggle and petty crime.
Thankfully, Small Time Crooks isn’t as heavy-handed (bordering on offensive) as some of Allen’s recent comedies. It isn’t trying to be anything other than what it is – one-dimensional and charming filmmaking reminiscent of screwball comedy from the past.
As usual, an endearing cast, most notably Ullman, surrounds Allen. She’s an incredible comedic talent who makes an appropriate wife for Allen as she creates a caricature of trailer trash gone gaudily rich. Although Allen’s aging is coming through a bit in his performance, making him slower, Ullman manages to support and amuse, without upstaging him.
Small Time Crooks is not one of Allen’s best, but is definitely a delight.
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