This movie would blow away in a light breeze, but you'll leave with a grin.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

In the lightest of bundles, Woody Allen delivers the goods with Small Time Crooks. Playing straight man to Tracey Ullman's ambitious, but upwardly immobile, wife, he sprays the air with a barrage of non sequiturs that contain just enough truth to trigger belly laughs. This movie would blow away in a light breeze, but you'll leave with a grin.

Ray (Mr. Allen) and Frenchy (Ms. Ullman) are ensnared in the comic devotion of a sarcastic grump of a husband who can never make his wife's dreams come true and an equally grumpy wife whose dreams would require a Donald Trump. Ray is not Donald Trump. He is a dishwasher with an imaginative twist of mind when it comes to his passion for petty theft. It's not the money, you understand, it's the inspiration, the process.

Frenchy, an ex-topless dancer with deep yellow hair, needs big money to do what she wants to do, which is to become a patron of the arts. Ray has a supportive flash: Rent the empty pizza parlor across the street and tunnel underground to the bank, where they will steal the riches necessary for Frenchy's dreams.

Ray's dimwitted cohorts makes us laugh just from the utter seriousness they bring to the task at hand. Depositing tiny shovelfuls from their tunnel into garbage bags, piercing a water main, they play earnestly in the realm of the ridiculous. Meanwhile, Frenchy bakes cookies upstairs as cover for the operation below. The cookies, of course, succeed wildly, and their fortune is made. It is this dance of slapstick and insult that captures the audience. Nobody does it better than Woody Allen.

But when the money is in hand, when Ray and Frenchy have moved uptown to an apartment decorated with giant wooden animal sculptures, a golden harp, and other effusions of bad taste, Allen once again goes into his attack mode against phonies. Instead of laughing, as he did with his thieving buddies, he snarls.

Targeting the pretensions of the art world, he brings on David (Hugh Grant), an art dealer whose impossible assignment is to give Ray and Frenchy some class. He takes potshots at art dealers, restaurants, colleges-at anyone who doesn't put beer and poker first. The edge in Allen's voice becomes so strident that his cocktail party insults over shrimp and quail eggs are angry, not funny. The second half is almost saved by the running commentary between Ray and May (Elaine May), Frenchy's hollow-headed cousin. Listen to the rhythm of their interrupted banter.

Woody Allen is quite a sight these days, with his shirtsleeves flapping like skirts on his skinny arms. He is peerless at directing the verbal chaos that connects his handpicked actors. When the little scarecrow abandons this big talent to pontificate about family values to a silenced Frenchy, we realize that this movie belonged all along to Tracey Ullman-with an assist from the world's best straight man.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 494
Studio : Dreamworks
Rating : PG
Running time : 1h35m

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