Small Time Crooks (2000)


Cookies are usually on my mind when I’m smokin’ stuff, not robbing vaults. That’s just me though.

Ray Winkler (Woody Allen) is an ex-con who has big dreams and an inability to hold down dish-washing jobs. His next plan in life is an inspired one: Rob a bank with his buddies. However, the main problem with robbing the bank is Ray being able to get it past his wife (Tracey Ullman)’s head. Even when he does, thinks don’t go so according to plan and that’s for better, and for worse.

That short synopsis up there may not seem like much, but trust me, once you see this flick and realize that I didn’t give away half of what happens in the second-half, the better for ya and the more thanks to me. See, the trailers and advertisements for this movie will have you think that it’s about Woody Allen, and all of his clowning-buddies, trying to hash together a plan to rob a bank, but being the buffoons that they are, just can’t get it to work. For the first 30 minutes or so, that’s exactly how it plays out in typical, Allen fashion. It’s fun, goofy, zany, witty, and very classy in the way that it’s just having a joyous time with itself and not worrying about going anywhere deeper than just a regular, heist movie.

Then something changes.

Without giving away too much of what goes down in this flick, especially in the latter-parts, I will say that it is the usual, kind of Allen we are used to seeing and loving so much, but much more important in the way it talks about it’s subject matter and the characters it usually points a funny finger at. For instance, all of the people that we are surrounded by in the latter-act are a bunch of richy-riches that act as if their shit don’t stank, don’t have a worry in the world because they can just get their butler or maid to do whatever they need done, and are totally absorbed in being fine, fancy, and loaded with cash. Allen makes fun of this but also brings up an important idea of how we all get absorbed when we have money, but yet, not everything about us gets affected, right?

It's a Woody Allen film, what did you think? There wasn't going to be any shots of New York?
It’s a Woody Allen film, what did you think? There wasn’t going to be any nostalgic shots of New York?

It never goes anywhere deeper than that, which is probably one of Allen’s main faults with this movie, but that’s fine because the way Allen makes jokes and satirizes this life-style really made me laugh, as well as feel as if I was seeing real people, actually be affected by all of the money they have for themselves. Some people get wrapped-up in it all; some just stay the same. Some people like to see a fine opera on their Saturday night; some like to stay at home, hang out with their buddies, slug a couple of brews, eat chips, eat pizza, play some cards, and bet some moolah. Some people like to venture out to Europe to see what the life out there is all about; some are just content with staying home and enjoying all that’s around them, without having to jump aboard a plane.

Yes, if I was given $5 million, most likely, I would be going a tad bit insane with it all, just throwing it away and acting like I didn’t have to worry about bankruptcy, losing it, or wasting it at all, but would I change? That’s what I thought about with this movie and it’s always a testament to Allen’s fine writing as to how he is able to give us something more to think about then what we are seeing, even if he is still hitting the notes on making us laugh and have a good time. Don’t get me wrong, this movie is still hilarious and will make you chuckle more times than you can imagine, but the way that Allen is able to incorporate more general-thoughts, is what really stands-out with this flick, and sort of stands-out from everything else that he’s done. Allen is a very hit-or-miss director nowadays, but thankfully, it’s safe to say that this is a sure-hit for him. He’s creepy and all, but at least he makes good movies.

Regardless of who he prefers to go to bed with, Woody Allen is still a talented mofo, and a very likeable one at that. His performance here as Ray, the down-and-out con who just wants to re-live his glory days, is actually very surprising to see from him. No, don’t get me wrong, Allen still plays up his whole blubbering, frantic-phase that we all see and hopefully love from the guy, but not matter what, he stays lovable, easy-to-relate-to, and very believable as the type of guy that would actually be feigning at the knees to pull-off another heist. Allen never seemed like the bad-boy type to me, and I’m pretty sure everybody else feels the same way, but he will surprise you here by how much he’ll change your opinion on that as soon as it’s time for him to act. He’s still goofy, but he’s very smart too, and it’s never annoying.

The one who really steals the spot-light from Woody, just so happens to be Tracey Ullman as his wife, Frenchy. Ullman is really playing-up her New York, Jewish-look and accent but it works so well for this character because she’s so quirky, so funny, and so obvious at times, that you can’t help but like her in the way that she wants to be rich and accepted. The fights between her and Allen feel real because they never really escalate to the point of near-death, but actually just keep you laughing because they feel like two people that are just getting tired of each other’s shit, even if they know that they love each other in the end. Allen and Ullman on their own, are hilarious, but when they’re together; they’re freaking dynamite!

Still shocked that he isn't on the front-paper.
Still shocked that he isn’t in today’s head-lines.

Elaine May plays Frenchy’s sister, May, who is definitely not the brightest bulb of the bunch, but definitely charmed the hell out of this character. Not only is she hilarious at playing a total ditz, but she also has a sweet and sympathetic-look to her that isn’t all about playing dumb to be cute, but more or less just a lonely girl, that gets discouraged because she is stupid. Yeah, maybe I am looking into it just a tad much, but that doesn’t mean that the motivations for that character aren’t there and shows that there are at least more to her than we may presume. Nice job on both May and Allen for that side-addition. Everybody in this cast is pretty good, but most of them do feel underused. People like Jon Lovitz, Tony Darrow, and Michael Rapaport are all good for what they do, but also get thrown to the side once Hugh Grant shows his beautiful, British-self into the mix. Those damn Brits! Always stealing our screen-time, even in Woody Allen movies!

Consensus: The shift in narration may change some viewer’s opinions about Small Time Crooks, but nonetheless, still shows Woody Allen in top, comedic-form as a guy that loves playing around with conventions, characters, and humor that we all think we’ve seen before, but with a couple of surprises along the way.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"It's so artful."
“It’s so artful.”
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5 comments

  1. It’s minor Woody but it’s certainly a fun film. I enjoyed the fact that it’s Allen wanting to go back to earlier comedies and having a good time. It’s got flaws but it has enough moments for me to enjoy myself.

  2. Of all the comedies Allen made in the early 2000’s. This one stands out for me as being one of his funniest. I agree that Allen and Ullman do a great job but I thought him and May had just slightly better comedic chemistry

  3. This is definitely good minor Woody. But you’re right in highlighting May’s work, she’s just incredible and thank goodness Woody convinced her to get in front of the camera again. A really good review.

  4. I agree with ninvoid99, it was quite fun but there were noticeable flaws throughout. Woody Allen is probably one of the best writers when it comes to dry, sarcastic humor. Great review Dan!!

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