Picks and Pans Review: Small Time Crooks

updated 05/29/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/29/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Woody Allen, Tracey Ullman, Hugh Grant

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In Take the Money and Run (1969), the first movie that Allen wrote, directed and starred in, he scored as an inept bank robber. He returns to crime, with modestly profitable results, in Small Time Crooks. The film isn't up there with Annie Hall or The Purple Rose of Cairo in the pantheon of all-time great Allen comedies, but it's more cheerfully droll than many of his recent entries.

Allen and Ullman play a Kramdenesque couple (the Honeymooners homage is made explicit in the film's closing line) barely getting by in Manhattan. When a cookie business they start merely as a front for a crime scheme takes off, Crooks turns into a satire on the nouveau riche. Its targets are obvious but often amusing, even if much of the humor derives from viewers' getting references the dim-bulb characters miss (such as confusing novelist Henry James with bandleader Harry James). And there's a gloriously funny turn by Elaine May. (PG)

Bottom Line: Medium-size chuckles

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