Plot: What’s it about?
Ray Winkler (Woody Allen) is an ex con, whose errors in a bank heist landed him behind bars and in hot water with his wife, Frenchie (Tracey Ullman). Now that he is a free man once again, Ray is tired of listening to his wife’s complaints and looks to make a big score, which would supply him the cash to keep her happy. So he gathers his old crew together and informs them of his plan, which once again involves them taking control of a bank. His plan calls for them to move into an empty storefront and tunnel in the basement, which would lead them right into the bank’s vault. But when Frenchie refuses to cough up Ray’s part of the start up cash, it seems as though the whole plan has to be scrapped. Soon however, Frenchie agrees when Ray tells her she can open a cookie shop inside the storefront. But when their tunnel plan fails and the cookie shop becomes an overnight success, it seems like all the plans have been thrown out of whack. These once blue collar fellows now have a lot of cash to their names, but what will become of them after all this unexpected success?
I’d been looking forward to this home video release for some time, as I viewed the film several times in its theatrical run. I’ve always loved Woody Allen’s more slapstick efforts and Small Time Crooks is in that area, so I loved this movie as well. I think Allen’s usual excellent writing and direction is present, but the real showcase here is the terrific ensemble cast, led by Allen. The actors seem perfectly chosen for their roles, as they come off as very natural and handle their lines very well. The simple banter is hilarious, but in a few sequences, I was forced to hold my sides, I was laughing that much. The basic premise seems like a throwback to a slapstick comedy from the golden age of cinema and as the film progresses, it harkens back even more. The music seems to follow those lines as well and as a whole, the film seems like a modern edition of a classic movie. It all works to perfection if you ask me and while this might not be Allen’s best, I think it is his finest film in the recent past. If you like comedies and want to laugh all night, then give Small Time Crooks a spin and I think you’ll agree your time is well spent.
In his career, Woody Allen has gone through some phases that have divided his fans. Of course, some love all of his films, but some prefer the slapstick Woody to more serious Woody and of course, vice versa. I happen to like the more goofy Woody Allen movies like Bananas, so when I heard Small Time Crooks was along those lines, I was pumped and then some. As it turns out, Small Time Crooks is a real throwback to Allen’s more hilarious films, which is just what I wanted it to be. Allen seems very relaxed in his role, makes his old funny faces, and works his usual silver tongue to perfection. In addition to the more light dialogue tones taken here, we also see a wealth of physical comedy, which is also a welcome presence. This is the Allen whose films I simply love and I hope more of his future efforts follow this path. Other Allen films include Love and Death, Annie Hall, Sleeper, Stardust Memories, Take The Money And Run, and Zelig. The rest of the cast includes terrific performances from such actors as Hugh Grant (Nine Months, Notting Hill), Jon Lovitz (Trapped In Paradise, The Wedding Singer), Tony Darrow (Analyze This, Goodfellas), Elaine Stritch (Screwed, Out to Sea), Tracey Ullman (I Love You To Death, PrΩt-α-Porter), and Michael Rapaport (Higher Learning, Kiss of Death).
Video: How does it look?
Small Time Crooks is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. This is a terrific overall visual presentation, which provides a very sharp image and offers little to complain about. I saw very little marks present on the print, minimal grain at worst, and no traces of compression flaws in the least, all of which are elements needed for a solid transfer. The colors look very natural here, but still seem bright and flesh tones emerge in normal hues as well. No flaws in terms of contrast either, as black levels look well balanced and no visible detail loss is detected. This is one excellent transfer, just as we’ve come to expect from Dreamworks.
Audio: How does it sound?
As per usual with Allen’s works, this disc includes a mono track, which seems to handle the basics without too much trouble. The music comes off a little flatter than usual, but in terms of mono, it sounds excellent. Same holds with the sound effects, as they are very limited, but sound terrific for what mono will allow. But the lack of surround sound doesn’t hamper the film much, since it is reliant on dialogue for the most part. The vocals come across in fine form, no volume problems at all and the crispness is superb also. This disc also includes English subtitles, which are always nice to have on deck.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This disc includes some talent files, production notes, and the film’s theatrical trailer.