Small Time Crooks

For the first time in a long time, Woody Allen decided not to put any obvious autobiographical content into his new movie. Small Time Crooks is merely about a bunch of idiots who come into money and try to deal with their newfound riches. In his last film Sweet and Lowdown, Allen used his love of music to craft a story around Sean Penn and Samantha Morton. Also notable is that this time, there isn't a parade of celebrities vying to act in small roles (like in Celebrity or Everyone Says I Love You). But probably the most unusual thing about Small Time Crooks is that it is widely accessible by everyone, and even children will probably enjoy it.

Woody Allen again plays Woody Allen, the harried neurotic man who constantly complains about everything. Allen is Ray Winkler, an ex-con who is planning a bank heist. He wants to buy a store a couple lots away from a bank, and dig underneath the vault. In order to do this, he needs the help of his wife Frenchy (Tracey Ullman, Ally McBeal, Tracey Takes On). Frenchy will work the store, selling her cookies, while Ray and friends dig underneath. Ray and Frenchy seem to despise each other, but it is only a superficial contempt. Deep down, they have a lasting love for each other. Their bickering is the result of years of being together, a strange sense of comfortableness. Ullman nicely descends the role, arguing about everything and anything with Allen at every opportunity.

The flaw in the plan is that Ray and his friends are idiots. Jon Lovitz (Happiness), Michael Rapaport (Deep Blue Sea) and Tony Darrow (Analyze This) and Ray try endlessly to get to the bank, each time with hilarious results. Meanwhile, business is so good that Frenchy hires her similarly stupid cousin May (a wonderful Elaine May). Small Time Crooks then jumps forward one year, where Frenchy and Ray are now successful. Ironically, their success comes not from robbing the bank, but from the business they opened selling cookies. Now, they thrust themselves into high society, much to the chagrin of everyone else. Ray and Frenchy are uncouth, rude, and ill mannered. Frenchy realizes this, and hires David (Hugh Grant, Notting Hill, Mickey Blue Eyes) to teach her culture. David wants to get close to her to steal her money.

Small Time Crooks is really two films in one. The first is the failed attempt at a bank heist. Here, the humor derives from everyone's stupidity. It is amazing that these people are able to survive to adulthood. The second film is Ray and Frenchy living the high life; two people seriously out of their comfort zone. Now, Allen shows them making fools of themselves. They have an idea of how to act, but it is far off from what is normal. Their taste in furniture and clothes is hideous, and Frenchy's attempts to fit in are pathetically funny. The transition between the two stories is abrupt and rocky, but the antics of Ray and Frenchy are enough to provide distraction.

Haro Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 35 minutes, Rated PG for language.

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