Small Time Crooks (2000) Woody Allen


Production Budget: between $18 million and $25 million
Worldwide Gross: $29 million

I can’t find a solid number on the budget although I’ve had more say more pinned this at the 18 number rather than 25. This movie was one of his biggest recent US box office successes at the time although for the purposes of my blog a movie has to at least double budget to be considered a success.

This is where the fatigue REALLY sets in. This is bad because it is not even like I’ve seen these movies back to back to back. I started with Tiger Lily in mid 2011. Sometimes work has gotten in the way and sometimes it has been difficult to get copies of some movies (Small Time Crooks was surprisingly difficult) but it has taken some time. That being said it still doesn’t change the fact I’ve seen over 30 films from one guy and it fills me with absolute dread that only now am I entering the supposed bad period in Allen’s career. I know some people want to give the claim „Even bad Woody Allen movies are better than 99% of the stuff that is currently in theaters“. That is a nice platitude but that is unfortunately not true. I may not be the biggest Woody Allen fan seeing as how I have given some negative reviews to some of his more widely regarded films but even the best of directors can churn out shit when they want. It took me a while to actually put this movie in and not just because of delays in finding it. It was because I had to wait to be in a good enough frame of mind so I wouldn’t come in with a bad attitude and shit on it for no good reason. So after all that, here is what I think of Small Time Crooks.

Ray (Woody Allen) is a loser crook who has an idea for a heist. He is going to rent out the property of a store and dig a tunnel to the bank to rob it. He has his wife Frenchy (Tracy Ullman) run a cookie shop as a front. The heist fails but the cookie business does so well it makes them millionaires.

What’s odd is all the trailers I initially saw focused on the robbery portion when in actuality it is only a third of a film. And really I can see why because this was the best part of the movie. This is where you get all the characters together and the comedy can snap quickly between Woody Allen and Michael Rappaport and Jon Lovitz and Tracy Ullman, etc. Sure the comedy is very predictable and weak but it is fun enough that I thought if they could sustain it for the running time, this would be a good movie. Then we get to the other parts.

The second act is when Ray and Frenchy make their millions and if it didn’t feel like a sitcom before, it really feels like one now. We transition from a modern Honeymooners episode to a Woody Allen version of Married With Children. Seriously it is like Allen wrote a special episode where Al and Peggy get rich and they have to deal with those snooty upper class twits. But if there is a character I do not equate with Woody Allen, it is the semi-abusive lower class bum Al Bundy. Hell, I honestly don’t know why they didn’t cast him for this. This just didn’t work for me at all. For one it seems odd that Allen, who is almost a proud intellectual snob himself, is trying to write himself as the hero of the working man. But it all comes off as so weak and poorly written. Oh those rich snobs! All they eat are snails and caviar! Why can’t they eat a burger and watch the game? Seriously that’s how lazy this all seems. I’m surprised we didn’t get a person with a monocle to show up. It also doesn’t work in the fact that Allen does his best when he gives witty dialog. Here he is trying to play the shlubby every man and he cannot pull it off.

The third act seems like a desperate attempt to get to 90 minutes as we get an overstuffed ending where they lose their fortune and they try another heist and this character does this and this character does that and blah blah blah I don’t care.

At best this would have been a great two parter episode for Roseanne or Married with Children or what the hell ever. The humor is TV safe and is kind of carried by the good character actors Allen assembles around him. Unfortunately Allen quickly loses track of the humor and any good narrative. The rags to riches falls flat at best, and dies a slow painful death at worst. Allen both plays against type and writes against type and it shows in the forced and out of character humor. This may have worked in the 50’s but this is absolutely no good today.

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