oody Allen's latest achievement, Small Time Crooks, is one of his most straightforward film's to date. It marked his return to slapstick comedy of yesteryear. Instead of the nervous, analyst-seeking character he has portrayed in the past, this one has an edge. Mr. Allen's character is a cocky dim-witted dish washing crook that spends most of his time concocting various heists. Past Woody Allen movies, for the most part, were seminars on how a film should be made. They were ripe with brilliant images and witty dialogue much like films during the golden age of Hollywood. Small Time Crooks dropped any unnecessary flare and came out with a simplistic comedy that truly was entertaining.
The type of characters Woody Allen has penned for himself in the past have been these overtly nervous middle aged, Jewish men on the verge of a breakdown. Also, most of his old films contain an undeniable undertone of sex and sexuality. Small Time Crooks left these characteristics behind, relying on the strength of the eccentric characters as well as the plot and in many ways this effort was in the same vain as Banana's. It was pure entertainment - nothing more nothing less. This film is not a special movie, but the script is clever and original pulling some actual laughs from the audience. Too many slapstick comedies rely on physical pranks and Woody Allen is a master at combining these physical pranks with a humorous dialogue that does not necessarily consist of cute one-liners. Other than the script, the absurdity of the characters also holds this film together. Woody Allen toys with the classic tale of rags to riches, inserting a cast of streetwise characters into the gaudy high-class society. There were glimpses of 'old Woody Allen' ethics as his characters attempt to entertain the socially elite crowd with lude jokes.
The directorial style of this film was much like those of past Woody Allen films. There were a few beautiful shots but for the most part the dialogue ran center stage. Small Time Crooks is clear-cut and there truly isn't a need for any fancy-foot work. The laughs come in the absurdity of the characters. There was no need for any camera trickery or prate falls for this one. Most importantly this film benefited from its apt casting choices. Tracy Ullman did an especially convincing job as Woody Allen's wife who is an ex-stripper turned manicurist, turned cookie mogul trying desperately to become a socialite. Hugh Grant makes an agreeing and fine appearance as a high-class snob trying to take the money and run. Michael Rappaport seems to be type casted as the classic dumb guy and once again he filled those shoes well. Small Time Crooks does have a well-rounded cast that truly supports the efforts of Woody Allen's script. There is a fresh feel to this movie because of the variety of actors used in the film. In his latest works, Woody Allen has relied on better-known actors then in the past. Also this movie's focus strayed from Woody Allen's character and more in the lap of Tracy Ullman. It also was well proportioned to the individual strengths of these actors. There was enough of a mix to get an over all feel of the situation. Woody Allen does a nice job of fleshing out each of his characters by showing little aspects of their personalities through interactions with various foil characters. It is apparent that this is in fact a well-crafted piece of work. Another aspect of Woody Allen's character is reminiscent of Jackie Gleason in the Honeymooners. His meek frame provides a humorous contradiction to his mouth. The character perceives himself as this thug, a big time crook with the brains to pull off any scam. Unfortunately, the reality is that his wife wears the pants and all his schemes fall well short of their ill-conceived beginnings.
Small Time Crooks is pulled off as well as it could have been and it is apparent that Woody Allen's golden days are drifting farther behind him. We may not see another Manhattan or Broadway Danny Rose but the nervous man in those glasses can still make us laugh. Small Time Crooks will not raise many eyebrows and pass through the box office without that much of a splash. It is certainly a film worth seeing if you are in the mood for a laugh or two.