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Small Time Crooks (2000)

by on 2012/08/09

“Compared to you, that chair is a genius.”

* * * *

So far in my quiet, uneventful life, I’ve been lucky enough to never be particularly desperate for money.

Sure, there was that dark, cold night in Toronto when I lost my last $40 bucks at the horse track and had to pass off a dime as a bus token… but that was a (cough) rare low ebb.

My family might be have been considered to be upper middle class …you know, in the 1800s. We had all the moose meat we could eat, cream we could churn and huge tracts of wintry forested land. And I’ve been lucky on my own, having never experienced any patches of un- or underemployment.

Knock wood, I’ve been okay so far.

A film like Small Time Crooks shows me a sour slice of life, with the sort of money-grubbing, desperate crooks I’ve so far I’ve managed (mostly) to avoid. We meet a tacky, loud married couple comprised of Ray (Woody Allen) and Frenchy (Tracey Ullman). They live hand-to-mouth in a hilariously awful apartment in New Jersey.

Ray’s an ex-con dreaming of a big score and Frenchy does nails.

Ray’s dim pals, Denny (Michael Rapaport), Tommy (Tony Darrow), as well as Ray’s cellmate Benny (Jon Lovitz) hatch a plan to tunnel into a bank. And none of them is as dumb as all of them.

The get-rich-quick plan is to lease a failed pizza parlour several doors down from the bank. To hide their criminal intent, they have to set up a small-business front, created around Frenchy’s one and only skill – baking cookies.

Hilarity, and for some reason, success, ensues.

Now wealthy and clueless, Frenchy tries to elbow her way into high society. She lets an opportunistic lout in the form of a pretentious art dealer David, played by Hugh Grant (Music and Lyrics), teach her how to be refined and junk. And Hugh Grant is an incredible, incredible ass in this role.

Mostly, I love the wall-to-wall stupidity on display in this film. While no one does dumb like Michael Rapaport, Elaine May as May, Frenchy’s idiot cousin gives Rapaport a run for his intelligence-impaired money. As Ray says, “Your cousin May is dumb like a horse, or a dog or something.” She really, really is.

Beside the wonderful amounts of dumb, I can’t resist Woody, particularly as a seedy but sweet crook. This flick was filmed entirely in Manhattan, on streets I recently walked down. The familiarity  made the experience even more fun.

Mostly, mostly, this film is a lesson to all young people out there. Stay in school kids – and get a real job.

* * * *

94 minutes

Rated PG for language and wall-to-wall-to-wall stupidity.

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