Projections - Movie Reviews

Small Time Crooks Small Time Crooks

Small Time Crooks, for those who've followed Woody Allen closely, is loosely based on his parents as this somewhat unpredictable romp may be re-titled "Sweets and Lowbrow", as cookies figure into Allen's story and Allen's character.  Ray Winkler is a wrinkled, down and out type, ex-con, who is concerned only with sports, beer, TV and making his little score.  Unwisely placed on the movie calendar, Allen as an actor is probably as pleasing as he's been in a while and he's paired well with Tracey Ullman and Elaine May, two able co-stars, not that distant in age to others who've appeared opposite him in the past ten years.

This lightweight mainstream work focuses on the not-so-bright Ray and his gossipy wife, Frenchy (Ullman).  She has learned from Ray how to crack a safe and wants to do more than just make pasta with turkey meatballs.  Soon she comes up with a crazy scheme, to rent an old pizza parlor and rig the tunnel to rob the bank down the street.

With the help of Jon Lovitz's Benny, an old cell mate of Ray "The Brain", Ray and Frenchy, an exotic dancer in her heyday, camouflage the robbery by starting "Sunset Cookies" which surprising becomes a gold mine and a buzz around Manhattan.

It turns out that Small Time Crooks is more than a farcical caper with the hapless bank robbery gang involving Ray, Benny, Tommy (Tony Darrow), and Denny (Michael Rapaport), as the bumbling thieves end up springing a massive leak while customers pour in for Frenchy's flavorful cookie shop.  What transpires is the boom of Sunset Cookies and a year later the Winklers become rich and famous, interviewed by 60 Minutes co-host Steve Kroft.

The last act has humor based on another of Ray's sure things at a posh party hosted by Elaine Stritch's Chi Chi Potter, an exchange of sorts is interrupted.  While Allen heads in a more serious direction as a course for the rich and famous, the director and writer bites into a high minded story with some unpolished editing and dialogue which provokes laughter from the banter of Allen and Ullman and the quaintly affecting May, as they help Allen's lowlife come off well without unprovoked ranting.

While Allen's picture is small time in terms of narrative and supporting players who remain in the background of Zhao Fei's amber lensing, his selfless portrait of cookie moguls isn't flat but it's not a recipe that will be aped by many crooks.

Small Time Crooks

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