“Small Time Crooks” is not Woody Allen at his best. While his films like “Husbands and Wives” and “Hannah and Her Sisters” are brilliant in their ability to be simultaneously hilarious and dramatic, “Small Time Crooks” falls into the superficiality silliness of his films like “Manhattan Murder Mystery” or “Bananas.” It’s a comedic caper with a slap-your-head-in-kookiness that makes Allen, at this age, seem like an old man desperately still trying to ham it up at the dinner table.
Allen–here again writer, director, and star–is Ray, an ex-con New Yorker (is that redundant?) trying to figure out the next best get-rich-quick-scheme while his girl Frenchy (Tracey Ullman) nags him to the knees. Ray comes up with an, of course, incompetent plan to bust into a neighborhood bank; a cookie store they start as a front to cover up the operation ends up netting them more loot than they ever imagined in their bank-robbing fantasies. The couple gets dough but no class; hence, David (Hugh Grant) as a fey Brit (well, Grant doesn’t really play anything but) who lends a hand to try to pull an “E! Fashion Emergency” on Frenchy’s insides and outs. Needless to say, you can take a pig out of mud but it’ll still stink, and a series of tricky turns leave Ray and Frenchy learning to appreciate love over money.
As is typical, performances are good although too frequently over the top. An outstanding exception is in the case of all those cast to play idiots–Michæl Rapaport’s Denny and Elaine May’s May in particular–reminding audiences that hilarious stupidity in characters doesn’t have to mean making a toilet or semen joke. The most side-splitting episode in the movie actually takes place when Allen breaks out of his own genre and spoofs “60 Minutes.” Ultimately, “Small Time Crooks” is a bit slow, a bit redundant, and the bottom line is that Woody Allen in a pair of shorts these days is a little rough on the eyes.
But hey, what do I know? I’m no Soon-Yi.