Small Time Crooks (PG)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner05/12/2000

Three out of five stars.
Running time: 94 mins.

Woody Allen’s second film to be released in the UK this year – a witty social comedy packed with great one-liners.

Allen stars as Ray Winkler, an inept career criminal, just out of jail and married to Tracey Ullman’s Frenchie – an ex-exotic dancer who’s now a manicurist. Ray’s 'Cunning Plan' is to rent an empty store two doors down from a bank and tunnel in, while Frenchie sells cookies from the store as a ‘front’. Naturally, the robbery is bungled, but, just as Allen and his equally dumb accomplices (including Michael Rapaport and Jon Lovitz) are about to be apprehended, when the arresting officer has the bright idea of turning Frenchie’s overnight-success cookie store into a franchise and they all become millionaires!

From then on, the film never really manages to top this superb set-up joke, and the movie becomes more of a social comedy, with Frenchie desperate to improve herself and become a patron of the arts (which she does by enlisting Hugh Grant’s too-good-to-be-true art dealer to ‘educate’ her, Pygmalion-style), and Ray yearning for the simple things in life, such as old movies on TV, hot dogs and the race-track.

While it’s unlikely that Allen will ever top his "early, funny" movies of the 1970s, this is as close as he’s got to re-capturing their spirit in recent years. True to form, there are some great one-liners, such as when Allen enters his flat and Ullman asks who’s there: "It’s the Pope – I always wanted to see your apartment!", and –the film’s funniest moment- Allen refusing to accept that his prison nickname of "The Brain" was meant to be sarcastic.

As always, Allen has assembled an excellent cast, and gets great performances from Ullman and Grant, who, in turn, manages to hint at the darkness beneath his charming exterior. Elaine May is the stand-out, though, playing Ullman’s nice-but-dim cousin May, who speaks with a lisp and takes everything literally, to hilarious effect. In general, then, this is well-worth seeing, even if you’re not an Allen fan - Small Time Crooks may not be up there with the best of Allen’s work (unlike this year’s earlier Sweet and Lowdown – one of the best films of the year), but it packs a lot of wit into its 94 minutes and demonstrates that, at 65, Allen’s still going strong.

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Content updated: 12/12/2017 23:46

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