Small Time Crooks2000

Genre: Comedy, Crime
After a run of serious-tinged comedies like Deconstructing Harry, Celebrity, and Sweet and Lowdown, Woody Allen turns to pure farce with the lightweight, appealing Small Time Crooks, the sunniest film Allen's made in years. Doing a 180 from his nebbishy intellectual persona, Allen plays a less-than-smart ex-con named Ray, who can't even keep a dishwasher job and is perennially supported by his wife Frenchy (Tracey Ullman). When Ray hatches a plot to lease a storefront near a bank and tunnel into the bank's vault, Frenchy is skeptical about putting their life savings behind the scheme, especially after meeting Ray's dim-bulb trio of support (Michael Rapaport, Jon Lovitz, and Tony Darrow, all sublimely ridiculous) and learning she's supposed to provide the front by opening up a cookie store. Soon enough, their get-rich-quick scheme pays off, but not the way they anticipated, and they're suddenly swimming in money and bad taste. All of Allen's farcical shenanigans are basically a setup for a look at Ray's and Frenchy's diverging paths--she wants culture and upper-class acceptance, he wants pizza in front of the TV and poker with his pals. Soon, the lowbrow Frenchy enlists a fortune-digging art broker (Hugh Grant) to make her a lady, and Allen plans a high society robbery with the help of Frenchy's dimwit cousin (Elaine May, who makes an art form of comic stupidity). It's absolutely refreshing to see Allen making a blithely happy film after wrestling with angst over the past few years; watching Allen play a dumb schlemiel is a treat that's been sorely missed. And in Ullman he's found a leading lady who can match him line for line; she wisely resists the urge to overplay Frenchy's crassness and comes up with a finely modulated characterization that makes her relationship with Ray the film's warm, heartfelt core. We'd almost forgotten Woody Allen could be this fun and goofy; it's good to see that part of him back in form. --Mark Englehart

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