Sixtysomething Woody Allen shows no signs of slowing, having helmed more than 30 features in less than three decades. After a delightful excursion into 1930s swing jazz (Sweet And Lowdown), he's now back on his home-turf of contemporary New York, with entertaining - - if mixed - results.
Small Time Crooks is at its most satisfying in the initial half-hour, which recalls the goofiness of The Bespectacled One's earliest features such as Take The Money And Run and Bananas, as the one-liners zing between Ray and Frenchy. (""What if I told you that you were married to a brilliant man"," he protests in one . ""I'd say I'd have to be a bigamist"," comes her retort.) Ray and his dozy cohorts then come a cropper in their tunnelling, lining up the funniest visual gag.
Alas, the comic pace begins to slacken as the story mutates into a modern-day take on Pygmalion. And while the newly-wealthy Ray is content to loaf around in his shorts and play poker, Frenchy is busy throwing dinner parties for society figures and filling their new Park Avenue pad with the gaudiest decorations and trinkets. The problem here is that the material comes across as condescending to Frenchy's aspirations: we're supposed to laugh at her vulgarity, or the fact that she learns obscure words from the dictionary to appear more educated.
The story picks up in the final third with another ridiculous caper, this time at a lavish reception. The performances, however, always compensate for the screenplay's shortcomings. Allen and Ullman are enjoyable as the bickering yet still devoted central couple, and there's some excellent support. Grant does his usual upper-class schtick with a devious streak, while Elaine May (plus her panic-stricken expression) proves a consummate scene stealer.
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A minor Allen piece, which is enjoyable with choice one-liners and engaging performances. But it's patronising in its treatment of key characters, and the feeling lingers that Allen's quick output means quantity is taking precedence over quality.