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Small Time Crooks


Small Time Crooks

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For his 33rd directorial effort in as many years (including TV movies and anthologies), Woody Allen has returned to flat-out comedy in Small Time Crooks, with unspectacular results. He also plays a working-class character for the first time in ages, but, as might be guessed from his recent work, Small Time Crooks is no stirring affirmation of the dignity of the common man. In Allen's increasingly narrow world, working-class life is a lot like an endless vaudeville skit; in this instance, Tracey Ullman (playing his wife) and Elaine May (playing Ullman's cousin) serve as his comic foils of choice. Allen and Ullman star as vulgar New Yorkers whose plan to rob a bank inadvertently makes them wealthy beyond their wildest dreams, and legally to boot. Switching gears from low-key crime comedy to low-key culture-clash comedy about halfway through, Small Time Crooks finds one of America's most deified filmmakers making little more than an East Coast variation on The Beverly Hillbillies. It's discouraging, if not particularly surprising, that virtually all of Small Time Crooks' humor is derived from the supposed crassness and ignorance of the working class. But what's doubly discouraging is that it isn't even funny in its own modest way. Small Time Crooks isn't anywhere near as pretentious or grating as Deconstructing Harry or Celebrity, but it's a sad day for cinema when a world-class writer such as Allen can't eke a few modest chuckles out of such unambitious material.