WOODY ALLEN FILMS

SMALL TIME CROOKS

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This is one of my favorite later Woody Allen films, and I just found that it’s airing on the Starz Edge channel right now. Written and directed by Woody Allen and released in 2000 this film has a rather simple but inventive plot. Woody stars as Ray, and Tracy Ullman co-stars as his wife Frenchy. They’re a poor couple, struggling to get by. Ray is a lifelong minor criminal, who has tried to go straight, but Ray and some of his friends, fellow ex-crooks get this idea to rob a bank. Their plan is to rent a storefront which is on the same street as the bank and they think they can dig a tunnel from underneath the store that leads into the bank so they can rob it when it’s closed. Frenchy is reluctant to go along with this plan because she and Ray will need to spend $6000 which is all their live savings to help rent the story, but Ray convinces her.

The catch is that in order to cover for the guys digging the tunnel in the back, they need to make the storefront look like a real store. So they open it as a small cookie shop, with Frenchy baking and selling cookies in the front of the store. As the guys dig, with often comical results, Frenchy sells he cookies and inexplicably the store becomes extremely popular, and soon it seems like everyone in New York loves these cookies. They start making more money legally selling the cookies than they ever dreamed. And when the guys screw up their plan to rob the back (the accidentally dig the tunnel in the wrong direction and end up in a clothing store instead of the bank, they decide to go legit and expand the cookie business. The movie flash-forwards a year later and now they’re a nationwide chain of cookie stores and multimillionaires.

This starts to change things. Frenchy becomes obsessed with flaunting her new found wealth and trying to fit into High Society, while Ray still has his same old blue-collar mentality. This eventually leads to a breakdown in their marriage, which also threatens the future of the cookie company. But then Frenchy gets taken in by a sleazy art dealer (played by Hugh Grant) who is secretly scheming to rip her off, leaving her with nothing. Can Ray and Frenchy save their business and their marriage? What the film to find out!

While the title of the film may present itself as a crime caper, at heart it’s actually a romantic comedy. The real story is the relationship between Ray and Frenchy, with all of its ups and downs, and Allen and Ullman have excellent chemistry together and make their characters feel believable. I remember watching her comedy show back in the late-80’s, and always thought she was a natural comedic performer. She sort of reminds me of a modern day Lucille Ball. In addition to Allen and Ullman they’re backed by a quirky cast that includes Jon Lovitz, Michael Rapaport, and Tony Darrow as Ray’s original partners in crime, Brian Markinson as a local cop who becomes a customer at Frenchy’s cookie store and then has a surprising reaction when he finds out about the bank robbing plan, and Elaine May as Frenchy’s dim-witted cousin who is hired when Frenchy needs extra help in the store. Altogether this is one of Allen’s funnier and more-overlooked films.

Chacebook rating: 5 STARS

Available on Amazon

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