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Small Time Crooks

The first of four films that Woody Allen made for Dreamworks in the early 2000's, SMALL TIME CROOKS is the best of the quartet.

Hailing back to a much earlier era of Allen films, the doom and drama of his 1990's films is nowhere in sight, replaced by physical comedy and witty dialogue.

Woody stars as recently paroled Ray, a minor league hoodlum with inflated dreams of one last, big score. Armed with the blueprints of a closed pizza joint, Ray wants to lease the restaurant, tunnel under the dress shop next door and come up inside the bank two doors down.

Armed with very few details and some very stupid co-conspirators, Denny played by Michael Rapaport (True Romance) and Benny, Jon Lovitz (SNL, The Producers), Ray must convince his wife Frenchie (a hilarious Tracey Ullman) to front him the seed money to lease the pizza store.

Watching Allen and Ullman battle in the best NYC accents on screen provides plenty of huge laughs.

Ray: What would you say if I told you that you were married to a very brilliant man?

Frenchy: I'd say I'd have to be a bigamist.

Denny: Ray really is a genius, Frenchy.

Frenchy: Compared to you, this chair is a genius, Denny.

Frenchie says she can't make pizza, but she can make a hell of a cookie.

When the cookies start selling and they make more money than the bank robbery ever could, what will Ray and Frenchie do?

Suffice to say they end up with so much seemingly limitless income that they become the Beverly Hillbillies. Their Manhattan penthouse looks like it's decorated by a madman in love with Safari prints.

Frenchie only wants to be am accepted member of New York high society. Hugh Grant comes calling as David, a young art dealer who Frenchie hires "My Fair Lady" style to make her a proper socialite.

Watching David try to teach Frenchie manners while Ray couldn't care less generates a lot of laughs in the second half of the film.

Elaine May (A New Leaf) steals the back half of the movie as Frenchie's sister May. She is so dense that she has no idea how to lie, not a good trait when you're trying to tunnel into a bank and every other customer at your cookie store is a NYC beat cop.

Watching all these characters react to their newfound wealth is a lot of fun. Never more so than when Steve Kroft does a 60 Minutes story on Ray and Frenchie's incredible success. We see the story in its entirety and it's hilarious.

With Frenchie off taking her proper lessons around the globe, Ray decides to become a jewel thief again (?). The last half hour sees both of these story lines collide, with Allen in fine form and Ullman delivering some heartfelt reactions as she realizes the grass isn't always greener.

A nice companion piece to Woody's hapless bank robbery in 1971's "Bananas", SMALL TIME CROOKS doesn't aspire to be much more than a comic caper, but on that score, it cracks the code, earning a B.

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