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A Tribute to Lovable Losers

In Crooks, Allen produces a lovable, relaxed—although not uproarious—comedy.

Indeed, one of the things that make this film work is the love and sympathy Allen ultimately grants all the dumb characters. Frenchy may be smarter than Ray in many ways, but for much of the film he can see more clearly than she can. Nearly all these misbegotten losers have moments where they display some variety of intelligence; certainly they all show some finer qualities than many of the "smarter" characters.

It is this generosity, together with its Damon Runyon elements and its debunking of the rich, that makes Small Time Crooks feel like an homage to the '30s. In many ways, this could be a Preston Sturges script. Sadly, the central way in which it doesn't resemble Sturges is in the density and quality of the gags. Allen can still write great jokes and great dialogue. The TV ads only hint at the brilliance of the scene in which Lovitz tries to explain to Allen that the latter's prison nickname, The Brain, was meant sarcastically; in the film, it goes on a good deal longer and is a masterpiece of elegant repetition. But the zingers are a bit too sparse and occasionally seem forced, and some of Frenchy's putdowns of Ray feel much too "written" and unnatural.

Smart cookies: Tracey Ullman (left), Hugh Grant and Woody Allen discover life as Small Time Crooks.
Smart cookies: Tracey Ullman (left), Hugh Grant and Woody Allen discover life as Small Time Crooks.

Small Time Crooks is lovable and touching and a lot of fun, but you can't help but wish it were a little faster and funnier.

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