Small Time Crooks

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

C+
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
Profanity: Mild
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Mild suspense
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2000

Woody Allen’s lightest comedy in years is a slight story of an unsuccessful crook named Ray who comes up with a plan for one big heist. He wants to rent a storefront that is two doors down from a bank and then tunnel underneath to rob the vault. He and his friends are hopelessly incompetent. But it turns out that his wife, Frenchy (Tracey Ullman), makes sensational cookies, and the business they started as a cover for the tunneling turns out to be a huge success.

A little abashed at having made more money legitimately than they ever dreamed of stealing, they settle in to enjoy it but find that they have different dreams. He wants to drink beer, eat cheeseburgers, and watch television. She wants to be a patron of the arts and have dinner parties with socialites. But behind her back, the people she invites snicker about her “flawless vulgarity.” When she meets a handsome, charming art dealer with an English accent (Hugh Grant), she asks him to teach her about culture.

The story has something of a fairy tale quality to it, as when the characters get what they wished for it was not what they had in mind. The small-time crooks learn that when you are rich there are big-time crooks to worry about. And at least some of the characters learn that what matters is the people you love.

Ullman and Grant are fun to watch, but the real standout performance is Elaine May as Frenchy’s dim-witted cousin.

Parents should know that the movie will not be of much interest to children but there is little objectionable material. There is social drinking and a character says, “I’d have a whiskey if I were you” before giving bad news. The main characters in the movie are criminals, and families may want to talk about what makes them believe that this behavior is acceptable.

Families should talk about Frenchy’s comments that “You were a crook so you think everyone is” and “Class is something you can’t fake and you can’t buy.” Who were the worst crooks in the movie?

Families who enjoy this movie will like Allen’s last movie about a crook, “Take the Money and Run” (some mature material), in which he plays a bank robber so inept that no one can read his handwriting on the stick-up note. And they may also enjoy the British crime comedy classic, “The Lavender Hill Mob.”

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