SMALL TIME CROOKS

Year: 2000
Rating: **1/2

Without giving credit, Woody Allen basically remakes LARCENY INC. where, in that Edward G. Robinson B&W crime-caper, thieves dig from underneath their strategically purchased suitcase store to a bank: The store winds up making more money than they'd have stolen, and Woody changes the business to cookies while SMALL TIME CROOKS plays so with many old movie cliches it seems more a parody than a remake...

Woody shifts from his usual neurotic movie-loving intellectual to a contentedly simple-minded ex con (the biggest stretch is when he thinks Humphrey Bogart's gold seeking SIERRA MADRE set classic is titled TREASURE ISLAND). And he's definitely not alone: Wife Tracey Ullman (the cookie-maker) provides the buried lead, especially during a very abrupt second-act shift as LARCENY morphs into MY FAIR LADY as Hugh Grant plays an intellectual art dealer doubling as a very subtle shyster...

Perhaps too genuine to be genuinely crooked, or all that interesting beyond good looks to fool a street savvy dame, he's constantly holding his proper, pompous tongue, giving loaded etiquette lessons to the new-rich ex-stripper, who has no education and even less taste in clothes, furniture — you name it. And while, overall, SMALL TIME CROOKS is a guilty pleasure, there's genuine heart in director/actress Elaine May as Ullman's kooky cousin...

Whether strolling along waterfront walkways from ANNIE HALL and HANNAH AND HER SISTERS or watching TV while admiring James Cagney's Cody Jarrett for loving his infamous mother — Elaine and Woody have far more chemistry (and funnier one-liners) than the frenzied marrieds, whose HONEYMOONERS banter gets annoying, quick. And good news/bad news: Woody and Elaine returned years later, as a married couple in the Amazon Series, CRISIS IN SIX SCENES. But it made this movie seem like MANHATTAN by comparison, or, more fitting, TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN, Woody's first and funniest role as a criminal.

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