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:: Small Time Crooks

A refreshed Woody Allen steps back to his more farcical filmmaking years in bringing this light-hearted comedy to the screen. His last two films, “Celebrity” and “Sweet And Lowdown” have been on the serious side of funny. “Small Time Crooks” leans towards the crazy end. It’s a revival of sorts of the earlier Allen tradition, being unassuming and skilful.

Allen sets the tone with an amusing performance as Ray Winkler, an under-achieving ex-con who works as a dishwasher in New York. His wife, Frenchy (Tracey Ullman) keeps them afloat financially by doing nails at a local beauty parlour, Ray comes up with a plan for one bug heist. He wants to rent a pizza shop that is two doors from a bank and then tunnel underneath to rob the vault. To help him accomplish this are three friends not of high intellectual standard. While they exhaust their energies into “digging for their gold”, Frenchy runs the shop by selling cookies. It turns out that she can make sensational cookies, and the business, which started as a cover for Ray’s brainwave, thrives so well that long queues begin to form outside the shop as a measure of its popularity. Frenchy’s cookies become a bigger deal than her husband’s scheming. 

Consequently, Ray and Frenchy become corporate giants. They run a giant cookie franchise and the money is rolling in swiftly. They buy big and seek the status of the rich and famous. Frenchy is keen to establish herself on the social scene, hosting dinner parties at their magnificent Manhattan penthouse and attending society events. On the other hand, Ray would rather drink beer and watch television. Frenchy befriends David (Hugh Grant), a charming art dealer, from whom she wants to be taught the finer things of life – good food and wine and knowledge of art. David looks wealthy but is scheming to win Frenchy’s heart and newfound fortune. Ray remains uncomfortable in this lifestyle and Frenchy’s dense cousin May (Elaine May) provides a good companion during these times. 

May is the film’s consistently humorous character. She is very slow-witted and prone to put her feet in things she shouldn’t. But it’s a terrific acting performance, along with Tracey Ullman as Frenchy, who provides the comic backbone. Woody Allen returns to provide merriment and amusement for filmgoers. He can still make straight-ahead comedy of a high standard, and “Small Time Crooks” is one that will bring several laughs and good entertainment value.