FILM

Review: Small Time Crooks: Allen film more rich than poor

Ray Winkler has a simple scheme: buy a lot near a bank and tunnel into its vault. His wife Frenchy will keep cover by selling cookies. Complications arise when the cookie business accidentally blossoms into a multimillion dollar franchise, turning Ray and Frenchy's penniless, happy marriage into extravagant matrimonial hell.
That's the low-down on Small Time Crooks, a Woody Allen comedy with plenty of laughs and a straight message: it's not lusting after money that destroys love, but getting it.
Alan plays Ray, an ex-con who has never been much of a crook, nor had much luck going straight. When he met Frenchy, he was in the rackets and she was an exotic dancer. Now he washes dishes and she does nails. They are poor, but happy, the sort of couple that express their love more with cheap shots than with kisses.


Woody Allen plays an honest thief whose life is ruined by riches.
photo: Couresty Charlie's Theatre

Small Time Crooks

Running Time: 95 minutes
Starring: Woody Allen, Tracey Ullman, Hugh Grant
Playing in Bratislava at: Charlie's Theatre
Rating: 7 out of 10

Ray Winkler has a simple scheme: buy a lot near a bank and tunnel into its vault. His wife Frenchy will keep cover by selling cookies. Complications arise when the cookie business accidentally blossoms into a multimillion dollar franchise, turning Ray and Frenchy's penniless, happy marriage into extravagant matrimonial hell.

That's the low-down on Small Time Crooks, a Woody Allen comedy with plenty of laughs and a straight message: it's not lusting after money that destroys love, but getting it.

Alan plays Ray, an ex-con who has never been much of a crook, nor had much luck going straight. When he met Frenchy, he was in the rackets and she was an exotic dancer. Now he washes dishes and she does nails. They are poor, but happy, the sort of couple that express their love more with cheap shots than with kisses.

"What would you say if I told you your husband was a genius," Ray asks, introducing his plan to rob the bank.

"I'd say I must be a polygamist," says Frenchy.

Things go wrong immediately for Ray and his buddies, but right for Frenchy, despite her best efforts to ignore customers. While Ray is in the basement striking into water lines and battling rats, Frenchy's cookies become the most popular in New York City.

Ray and company are too innocent, dim-witted, and somehow honest to consider legitimate business. One friend would rather burn the lot. "I burn everything," he explains. "That's how I put two kids through college." Another puzzles over what wood to buy for their tunnel, settling on redwood, because, "redwood makes good trees". But when a cop catches them accidentally breaking into a dress shop, he offers to let them off the hook if he can join their business. "What business?" they say. "Franchise."

The story jumps forward one year. The cookie franchise is a national hit. Ray and Frenchy have a new apartment with a chef, butler, and gilded everything. Ray is lost. All he wanted to do was rob a bank, head to Miami, swim, drink beer, and frequent the dog races.

Frenchy greets their wealth with relish - buying a lyre, fibre-optic carpet and a collection of leather pigs - but longs to be accepted by high society, which is impressed by her money but horrified by her taste. She is determined to get cultured, and warns Ray he'd better not lag behind.

Enter British art dealer David, played by Hugh Grant with his usual diffident charm, who agrees to school Frenchy in art, taste, and manners. It won't be easy - Frenchy thinks Henry James was a band leader, and she answers her mobile phone at classical music concerts - but when he senses Frenchy falling for him, and learns the fortune is in her name, his enthusiasm waxes.

Frenchy, who has taken to a life of operas and champagne, and Ray, who would rather watch baseball and drink beer in his underwear, quarrel. She leaves for Europe and he moves out of the apartment.

Their marriage seemingly over, Frenchy's fortune unravels quite suddenly, whereupon David humiliates and abandons her. Humbled and apologetic, she meets Ray in New York and finds herself back where she started: poor, uncultured, and quite happily in love with a small-time, honest thief.

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