Today’s Prayer Focus

Small Time Crooks

MPA Rating: PG-Rating (MPA) for language

Reviewed by: Halyna Barannik

Better than Average
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teen to Adult
1 hr. 35 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
Tracey Ullman and Woody Allen in “Small Time Crooks”
Featuring: Tracey Ullman, Hugh Grant, Jon Lovitz, Woody Allen, Tony Darrow
Director: Woody Allen
Producer: Jean Doumanian, Woody Allen
Distributor: Dreamworks SKG

Oddly enough, Woody Allen’s 2000-release movie, “Small Time Crooks”, is actually about how crime does not pay. Secular reviews have been mixed, depending on how one feels about Mr. Allen’s personality, which is abundant in this movie. However, this movie has a character which for me was the funniest character I have ever seen on screen, and so for that reason, and my love of comedies in general, I don’t regret paying for the ticket.

Woody Allen plays Ray, an ex-con who has been trying to live an upright life with his hardworking, eccentric wife Francis “Frenchy,” played hilariously by Tracey Ullman. Ray decides he is tired of being poor and is itching to rob a bank. He and some cronies of his from jail, Denny (Michael Rapaport) and Tommy (Tony Darrow), have decided to buy a little pizza place and use it as a front while they dig their way to a neighboring bank. But the place has just been purchased by another ex-con friend of theirs, Benny (Jon Lovitz), so they include him in their scheme. While they are digging, Frenchy bakes cookies, and develops a successful business, with the help of her cousin May, played so hysterically by Elaine May, that she makes Gracie Allen look serious. The silliness of this performance had me smiling for the rest of the day and will continue to be one of my all-time favorite performances. Elaine May took good lines and made them spectacular.

Scene from “Small Time Crooks”

Back at the dig, things don’t go as planned. Ray and Frenchy end up making money a legitimate way, and end up being filthy rich. Frenchy hires an elegant and sophisticated fellow named David (Hugh Grant) to help her learn the finer things in life. Ray hangs out with May, who, I repeat, had me in stitches. The plot takes a twist that eventually brings the conclusion that crime simply doesn’t pay.

You need to be able to tolerate Woody Allen doing his schtick, and if you don’t know what that is, “Small Time Crooks” gives it to you in large doses. If the crooks succeeded, I might not recommend this movie, despite the comedy. I got a little weary of the Woody Allen schlemiel. But coupling Elaine May and Tracey Ullman with the morally acceptable conclusion to the story makes it possible to recommend it. Hopefully, you will enjoy Elaine May as much as I did.

Viewer Comments
An enjoyable video rental, “Small Time Crooks” is a funny drama that makes for a pleasing mellow viewing. This is character humour not slapstick. And is money really the answer to happiness? “Small Time Crooks” says “no”. And the crime in this movie is merely a humourous backdrop. In fact, there is little offensive material at all: how unusual these days. Original and well acted, I recommend this film, but for adults only: teens may get quite bored. My Ratings: [3/4]
Todd Adams, age 33
“succeeds as a romantic comedy”… …After making so many films which focused on the lives of wealthy New Yorkers, Woody Allen seems to lack a reference point when he chooses to do a story about working-class people, and reaches into the past for a fictional source. This doesn’t mean that the HONEYMOONERS homage is a failure. In fact, it works quite well. The dialogue between the two is sharp, and for once, Allen allows his leading lady to deliver as many funny lines as he does. Ullman’s piercing peppered speech and Coney Island kitsch wardrobe not only match, but at times override Allen’s neurotic babble and meticulously plotted T-shirt and chino insouciance. …The movie comes back to life toward the end thanks to a quirky, but endearing, performance by Elaine May who plays Ray’s lookout as he tries to steal a rich lady’s necklace at a cocktail party. …SMALL TIME CROOKS does not glorify crime. It merely accepts it as a kind of lifestyle. That may be objectionable, but that defect is balanced by the upbeat ending in which love and marriage triumph over all adversity, including crime. Despite its flaws, the film succeeds as a romantic comedy (one which adults and adolescents can enjoy) because through adversity the couple learn more about themselves and about what is truly valuable in life. My Ratings: [4/3]
Jim O’Neill, age 47
only for die-hard Allen fans… My wife and I took our nephews to this movie thinking it was a comedy about a bunch of bumbling crooks trying to pull off an ill advised bank heist. The previews showed us just that and made it look quite funny. For twenty minutes it was just that—quite funny. The next hour and fifteen minutes were torturous. If we hadn’t paid full-price for this Woody Allen whine-a-thon we would have walked out. Picking slivers out of my eye would have been more fun. If you aren’t a die hard Woody fan don’t go. My Ratings: [4/2]
Arthur Blum, age 35
“inspired; nothing too objectionable”… one of the most inspired comedies in a long time. It could have been funnier. I chuckled a lot, was smiling almost all the way through, and there were even a few belly laughs. What makes the movie inspired is its characters and the acting. …What is also inspired in the film is the way that Allen doesn’t just make the whole film into a caper film. The caper elements are good but the film goes on into a satire about these lower-middle class people become rich in a way they didn’t expect, but can’t (or won’t in Ray’s case) fit in. …From a Christian perspective there are a few very mild swears and one raunchy sex joke, but nothing too bad. The film takes a lighthearted look at robbery, but I doubt anyone will see this movie and decide to become a crook (especially after they see how badly Ray louses things up). I also thought that it was good to contain the message that money can’t buy happiness. My Ratings: [3/4]
Andrew, age 24
“extremely boring”… First off: You have to like Woody Allen to “like” “Small Time Crooks.” I am 14 years old and I thought it was extremely boring and probably the worst movie I have ever seen in my entire life. The characters were pretty cool, but they get pushed out of the movie and only Woody Allen, his wife, and Hugh Grant are actually in the movie after halfway through it. (The other characters were funny for the 15 min. that they were in the movie). Another thing I disliked was the music which they played the same tune after ever scene. Bottom Line: …not for kids and it was a terrible movie in a teenagers' perspective. There also was hardly any humor to it. Morally it was fine, I guess the reason why it was parental guidance was because of the idea of crooks. My Ratings: [4/1]
Skip Sanders, age 14
I’m writing and replying to the teenager who said that “from a teenagers point of view” that this was a horrible film. Well, I’m 16 and I thought this was an extremly entertaining and fun film to watch. The profanity was limited and everything else was just, well funny. It does start out really slow, and it’s made in a style you need to get used too, but if you can adjust, you should have a great time.
Anon, age 16
anticipated more humor… opens with a comedic slapstick flourish… The opening 20 minutes of the movie were hilarious—in fact that alone may have been worth the price of admission! The brilliant mixture of characters is excellent… however, after the initial scenes in which I laughed almost non-stop, I kept anticipating more humor and it never really happened. The rest of the movie was ho-hum and mediocre at best. Profanity—negligible. Sex and Violence—None. Moral of the story—“Money can’t buy happiness and crime doesn’t pay!” Bottom Line—lighthearted comedy, but don’t go with great expectations.
Karen Paylor, age 47
Movie Critics
Woody Allen displays his extraordinary talents as writer, director and actor. Ray and Frenchie think money will solve their problems, but discover they were much happier poor. …SMALL TIME CROOKS has no sex or sexually suggestive material…
Preview Family Movie and TV Review
…Profanity is what earns the film its rating, but doesn’t even include any “s” words, although various colorful phrases are also present, as is one non-graphic, sexually related comment…
…Though this is a tough movie to dislike, it plays more like a second draft than a final product, recalling past films by great directors who reached their 60s and lost some of their pinpoint precision…
Mike Clark, USA Today