Click here 3.5 stars


Woody Allen

Woody Allen crafts a gentle, wonderful little film

"Small Time Crooks"

Reviewed by John Orr

(Click on the images to see larger version and credits.)

I walked out of "Small Times Crooks" thinking "What a nice little movie," but after a few hours changed that thought to "What a wonderful little movie."

The more I thought about it, the more I appreciated it.

It's Woody Allen at the top of his craft as a writer, which is way up the scale, and it's a smooth, well-directed film from beginning to end, with the usual collection of excellent performances we've come to expect from actors in Woody Allen films.

Allen stars as Ray Winkler, a small-time crook who's done some prison time for a botched bank robbery.

Michael Rappaport, Woody Allen, Jon Lovitz, Tony DarrowIn prison, his nickname was "The Brain," he reminds Benny, an ex-con pal.

"That was sarcastic," says Benny, played by Jon Lovitz.

Truthfully, Ray isn't too bright. But in a masterfully and subtly written and performed way, is the most honest man in the film — which is part of what raises this from being a nice little film to being a wonderful little film.

Tracey UllmanRay is married to Frenchy, played by Tracey Ullman. Frenchy is a former stripper who now works as a manicurist and who cooks linguini and sausages for Ray, and bakes cookies everyone likes. She loves to watch the British royal family on TV.

Ray comes up with a plan to make enough money to leave New York and move to Florida to retire: He wants to lease a pizza shop a couple of doors down from a bank, then tunnel from its basement to the bank to rob it.

Frenchy's job will be to front the pizza shop.

But I don't know anything about pizza, she protests; so ... they open a cookie shop instead.

Downstairs, the movie has a few moments as goofy and slapstick-funny as anything in "Bananas" or "Take the Money and Run." Woody's scene with Michael Rapaport, who plays one of the small-time crooks, is both funny and a wonderful comment on dorks who wear baseball caps backwards.

Elaine MayUpstairs, the cookies have become a New York phenomenon, and Frenchy can't make and sell them fast enough; she hires her air-head relative May — played hilariously by the great Elaine May — to help at the counter.

Well, the bank-robbery scheme doesn't exactly work out as planned, but the cookies are an enormous success, and before too long Ray and Frenchy are millionaires.

That's when Woody the writer takes on the upperclass creeps of Manhattan — the wealthy but shallow poseurs who associate with the tacky Frenchy and quiet Ray only in hopes of transferring some of their new-found wealth into their own pockets.

Frenchy forces Ray to eat escargot and wear fancy clothes when all he really wants is Frenchy's linguine and sausages, and a comfortable shirt to wear when and if they go to Florida.

Hugh Grant, Tracey UllmanIt's a wonderful film for where its sincerity shows up. Frenchy is a sincerely nice woman who loves the hoity-toity stuff and who tries to learn about it, honestly. Ray is also honest. He doesn't like the fancy paintings Frenchy buys from the weasly art dealer played by Hugh Grant, and just wants to get back to the things he likes.

Allen does not condescend to Frenchy, Ray, May or their less-than-sophisticated friends; and he is subtle but telling in his condemnation of the hoity-toities who do condescend to them.

Hugh GrantGreat writing, great direction. Funny stuff, too. Another delightful movie from one of the greatest filmmakers ever.

Theater or Video?
Go see it in the theater now; later, rent or buy the DVD or tape to see it again. That's my plan.
DVD at
VHS at

See cast, credit and other details about "Small Time Crooks" at Internet Movie Data Base.