[box cover]

Small Time Crooks

When Woody Allen was alive he was a master of the comic drama, uncovering withering human frailties with acerbic wit and indefatigable neuroses. Since his tragic death in 1993 following a brutal mauling at the hands of Mia Farrow's alien brood at the premiere of the triumphant Husbands and Wives, Allen's evil doppelganger has been stalking our cinemas with a foul inversion of the great director's gifts. Only once in the interim has Allen forced through the astral planes a defiant cry from the netherworld (Deconstructing Harry) — the rest has been the worst desecration of entertainments, such ghastly creations as the nauseating Celebrity and the dreaded Everyone Says I Love You. That history in perspective, Small Time Crooks is not the most evil deadly output from this faux-Allen, yet bears many of his diabolical markings. Allen stars as pathetic ex-con Ray Winkler, held to the straight-and-narrow by his brow-beating wife Frenchy (the never amusing Tracey Ullman) until he dreams up a "fool-proof" bank heist that involves Frenchy opening a cookie shop as a front operation. The heist fails — but the cookie business turns into a multi-million-dollar empire. Thus the film switches awkwardly from poor slapstick hysteria to tepid morality play, but in neither section is there anything fresh, diverting, amusing, nor appealing. As in the awful TV movie Don't Drink the Water it's proven true that nothing is more irritating than characters acting "funny" without a screenplay to back it up. Impostor Allen's social commentary is shallow, his manner increasingly grating (here it's like a bad imitation of Kenneth Branagh's bad imitation of Woody Allen in Celebrity), and his one-liners are typically as funny as the dying gasp of a preemie. Also starring Hugh Grant, Jon Lovitz, and Michael Rappaport in surprisingly weak supporting roles, and Elaine May as a useless idiot (but not the funny kind). Good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1), Dolby Digital 5.1. Trailer, keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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