Small Time Crooks
** GM
Starring: Woody Allen, Tracey Ullman, Michael Rapaport, Jon Lovitz, Elaine May, Tony Darrow, Hugh Grant


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I think Woody Allen films may be the only place you can hear the line "What are you, a jerk?" in a contemporary setting.

I'm hardly a Woody Allen scholar - I've seen "Deconstructing Harry," "Celebrity," "Antz" and this film, so I'm not going to sit here and wax pointlessly about comparing his earlier work to what he's doing now, or any of that crap. This is just an attempt at straight comedy, and it's less a heist film than it is a bumbling "uncultured trying to be cultured" story. And of course, not enough Lovitz.

Woody Allen is Ray, an unskilled criminal attempting to go straight with his wife, Frenchy (Tracey Ullman), and not liking it at all. He hatches a dumb plan to rob a bank with his dumb friends (Michael Rapaport, Jon Lovitz and Tony Darrow) which involves having Frenchy sell cookies as a front operation - but the front becomes an instant hit and the bank heist fails miserably. So they get rich legitimately, and Frenchy decides she needs to become cultured and refined, so she hires Hugh Grant to teach her, while Ray just wants to be the same guy he used to be. The 'small time crook' part of "Small Time Crooks" is pretty much over in the first half hour or so. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it makes the title a bit of a misnomer.

Just about any movie I've seen with Lovitz has failed to provide ENOUGH Lovitz. His work in "The Critic" means he should be utilized more often. The entire supporting cast vanishes far too soon, and they're all replaced with Hugh Grant and Elaine May as Frenchy's half-witted relative. May, while comical when trying to think on her feet, hardly makes up for the lack of Lovitz, especially when Hugh Grant is included in that equation.

Woody Allen has always bothered me somewhat, which is why I've avoided his films... but the more I see of him, the more I can see how that annoying weasel speech pattern he always uses can be seen past and how true comedy gold can be contained within. Does Allen have any other characters he can play, though? They all seem to be simply Woody Allen in different situations. I'm sure this is hardly a new observation, but doesn't that get old after a few decades?

A problem with some comedies is that they rarely do what is necessary to distinguish themselves from a sitcom plot, and that's just about what the film boils down to. The film itself is possible to enjoy at times, but not really enough to make me believe I made the right choice in seeing this or "Road Trip" - and that might be the worst thing I can say about it.

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