_Small_Time_Crooks_ delivers small time laughs. That's not exactly a
damning statement; the Y2K edition of the Woody Allen Annual Project is
good for a few giggles. But that's exactly the problem--all there is to
be had are giggles.
Only a few of these light guffaws are to be had courtesy Allen the
actor. He plays Ray Winkler, an ex-con whose job as a lowly dishwasher
doesn't exactly provide a cushy life for him and his fed-up wife, Frenchy
(Tracey Ullman), a manicurist. Allen is in full, tiresome nebbish mode,
and he is matched in the shrillness department by Ullman, a talented,
versatile comedienne who sometimes gets so caught up in her characters'
quirks that any sense of humanity gets lost in them (which is the case
So it's hard to much care whether or not Ray's big and none-too-bright
get-rich-quick scheme--to rob a bank--works out or not. I'm not giving
anything away by saying they indeed to get rich quickly (albeit not in
the manner they had expected), and suddenly the Winklers are part of New
York high society. Ray just wants to live as a regular guy, but Frenchy
wants to be one of those snooty socialites, and she turns to British art
dealer David (Hugh Grant) for lessons in class and refinement.
Grant's character is the umpteenth variation on the Brit gentleman parts
he has built his career with, but he's more appealing company than the
Winklers. Then again, many of the supporting characters are more fun
than the leads. Michael Rapaport, Tony Darrow, and Jon Lovitz are all
funny as Ray's partners-in-crime, but they virtually vanish after the
film jumps ahead in time on year. Luckily, still prominently present
after the time gap is Elaine May, who plays the dimmest of the film's
cast of dim bulbs, Frenchy's cousin May.
As with all Allen films, there are a few good wisecracks and individual
gags (_not_ among them is a particularly forced bit involving a burst
water main). But never do they come together into a filling whole,
making _Small_Time_Crooks_ a minor, middling effort from a major talent.