Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Crooked Woody Experience: Small Time Crooks

The Good: Amusing, Good acting, Good dialog with fast deliveries.
The Bad: Predictable plot, Under-use of actors
The Basics: Fun to watch, not overly serious, Small Time Crooks is an adult fable with the theme "Be yourself and enjoy life" delivers with quick dialog and good acting.

First off, Small Time Crooks was my first experience with Woody Allen. I'll begin my review by saying, I'm sure it won't be my last. Since originally watching this movie, though, I've found it left almost no impression.

This somewhat average film begins with Ray and Frenchy Winkler (played by Woody Allen and Tracy Ulman, respectively), an aging couple who have been together for some time, though the reasons for their union are unclear. Ray comically threatens Frenchy with violence he never seems capable of dishing out, much like the old "Honeymooners," but with someone of Woody Allen's build doing the threatening. The film opens with Ray teaming up with some old friends from prison with a cagey scheme to rob a nearby bank. Soon to join their efforts is Benny, played by Jon Lovitz.

The plot is amusing: Four men plan a bank robbery by renting a restaurant and the front (a cookie store) turns out to be where the real money is. Frenchy finds herself overwhelmed running the cookie store and when Ray's attempt to rob the bank fails, the thieves turn legitimate.

And rich.

What follows then is the conflict between joining upper class society and simply being oneself, played out as Frenchy (who goes back to using her full name of Francis) takes lessons to become classy and Ray goes on an eternal search for a simple cheeseburger. That entire aspect of the plot, while predictable, is funny.

When the conflict becomes the central story, the plot becomes predictable. That is to say, when the story becomes about Frenchy's quest to join society essentially forces her to abandon Ray, the character arcs follow the most predictable, Hollywood, directions possible. There come no surprises in terms of the way the movie progresses from that point on and it ends in exactly the way one suspects it might for a rags to riches type story.

What isn't predictable is the quality of the characters and the caliber of the acting. The characters continue to be interesting and while the plot is predictable (that is, we have a pretty good idea of what the characters will do), the dialog remains sharp, witty, and fast paced. The characters remain fluid and interesting. So, for example, while we know Francis is probably going to end back up with Ray, her attempts at being a "person of society" are laughable and fit her character quite well.

Ray's quest for a simple cheeseburger is amusing and the idea that a character could be motivated by something so very simple is a clever concept and director Woody Allen executes it well.

The actors, who by the middle of the film include Hugh Grant as David, the society-driven art dealer who is giving Francis lessons in being classy, continue to deliver well as good actors. But none of the roles truly challenge any of the actors. Grant is an excellent example of this: We've seen him play slick and societal in such movies as Love Actually (reviewed here!) and he's much better there because the role has some real significance. This movie seems to be a better feat of casting (i.e. putting actors in roles that perfectly fit their known talents) than acting (pushing the borders of performances we have seen from a specific actor).

Where the film fails is in its use of the actors. Tracy Ulman gives a great performance and is used well, the rest of the cast, not so much. The usually charming Hugh Grant is underused, but even more so is the comically brilliant Jon Lovitz. 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft has almost as much airtime as Lovitz. Woody Allen appears far too much in comparison to the rest of the cast. While such a statement seems obvious given Allen wrote and directed the film, it is more problematic than that; Allen creates interesting peripheral characters and fleshes them out with exceptional actors. And then . . . neglects them. It's unfortunate to the viewer.

Overall, the film is interesting, fun as a diversion, but not of such substance as to be analyzed beyond what it is, a simple adult fable. That's not bad, it's just not as great as it could be.

For other works with Brian Markinson, check out my reviews of:
Charlie Wilson’s War
Chasing Freedom
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - “In The Cards”
Star Trek: Voyager - “Faces”
Star Trek: Voyager - “Cathexis”


For other films, check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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