Small Time Crooks

Small Time Crooks (2000)
Dreamworks Home Entertainment
Cast: Woody allen, Tracey Ullman, Hugh Grant, Jon Lovitz
Extras: Trailer, Production Notes, Biographies

Fans of Woody Allen have long been missing the master’s original touch that he had exhibited especially in his earlier works, where abstruse comedy was masterfully blended with intelligently written dialogues that had an almost academic caricature nature. Over time, Woody Allen changed, and so did his films, but all lovers of his original comedies will be pleased to hear that with "Small Time Crooks," Woody Allen is back on top of his game, with one of his funniest films in years. Dreamworks Home Video is now bringing "Small Time Crooks" to DVD and although consisting mostly of the feature presentation itself only, it is a highlight in their library.

Ray Winkler (Woody Allen) is a small time burglar and ex-con who has given up his criminal past – or so his wife Frenchy (Tracey Ullman) believes, until one day Ray returns home from work with a plan. He has worked out details for a foolproof bank heist that would make them rich. Frenchy is not happy about the idea but for the prospect of riches, she agrees and together with some friends they set up a cookie store as cover for their tunneling work to the bank down the block. But the truly unexpected happens, somewhat throwing off Ray’s congenial plan. Frenchy’s cookies are a run-away hit and people begin lining up in front of the shop and around the block, only to get a taste of these incredible cookies. After a completely misguided attempt to break into the bank, Ray and his friends decide that maybe going legit would be a good idea and they start Frenchy’s cookie empire.

One year later, Ray and Frenchy have hit the big time. With franchises of their stores opening around the country, they rake in the money faster than they can spend it. But some cracks become evident in their relationship. While Ray is has maintained his simple, private and shy personality, Frenchy wants to be a socialite. After some embarrassing incidents, Frenchy decides to hire David (Hugh Grant) a local art dealer to teach her the ways of the rich. Racing from wine-tastings to opera performances, from chamber music to dinner etiquette, Frenchy gets entirely caught up in her new world as a socialite – and even begins to learn the dictionary by heart. But the suave David has his own plans for Frenchy, one that involves a lot of money… her money to be exact!

From the first to the last minute, "Small Time Crooks" is filled with chuckles and laughter. Phrases like "Compared to you this chair is a genius" or "You think those kings and queens buy retail?" make up the first five minutes of the film and they immediately set the tone for the rest of the film. Like in many other of Woody Allen’s comedies, finally the master is back to his witty dialogues, wrangling the English language to a degree that becomes cynically philosophical.

Spearheaded by Woody Allen as the ever fumbling Ray, the film boasts an incredible cast of hilarious performers. Especially Tracey Ullman is at her best in years. Her delivery of the dialogue, her mannerism, and her attitude are a hoot, but always with a real human touch that makes the character absolutely believable.

"Small Time Crooks" exhibits a surprising pace, actually, racing through its many plot twists at an impressive speed. No doubt, it helps to keep the story and the characters fresh and alive at any given moment, always ready to surprise the viewer with yet another assault of intelligently written verbiage and "action."

Dreamworks Home Video presents "Small Time Crooks" in its original 1.85:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio on this DVD. The transfer is <$16x9,16x9 enhanced> and absolutely clean. No blemishes or speckles mar the image quality, although the film itself shows some grain – a direct result of the film stock used for this production. Highly detailed, the transfer also has a fantastic color reproduction. Whether it is the subtle hues of the natural daytime shots, the colorful sunsets or the interior shots of the excessively decorated apartment, the transfer always maintains a very thorough color reproduction without bleeding or noise. Skin tones are always naturally rendered, further rooting the natural impression of the movie. The transfer also has good and solid blacks, as well as very good shadow definition, which gives the image visual depth and dimensionality.

Some edge-enhancement is visible throughout the film, which is about the only detractor found in this otherwise flawless transfer. While the ringing artifacts it creates on occasion are sometimes obvious, they never become distracting from the actual presentation. However, I find it interesting that even studios, who did not use a lot of edge-enhancement in the past to create some of the industry’s best transfers, are currently making liberal use of this device for some obscure reason. The compression on the disc has been done meticulously and no compression artifacts are evident anywhere in the presentation.

Woody Allen is known to be a minimalist filmmaker and as such, "Small Time Crooks" contains only a monaural <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track. In a time where bloated <$5.1,5.1 mix>es are the norm this track is a notable and rather refreshing exception. But at the same time, you will never really notice, because the way the story is told is so intimate that the sound has to feel intimate too in order for the story to work properly. Exactly that has been achieved by this excellent mono track that never distracts from the images and creates a homogeneous whole. Dialogues – the most important aspect of the whole movie – are nicely integrated and always understandable. Complemented by good sound effects and a charming jazz score, this film has all the trademarks that make Woody Allen such a unique filmmaker.

Apart from the movie’s trailer, production notes and biographies, the disc does not contain any notable extras. While this may be disappointing to some, you may want to keep in mind that, as a minimalist filmmaker, Woody Allen is not a friend of bells and whistles, and more so not a friend of supplements. For him the film is of relevance, and it is an understanding I can certainly share.

"Small Time Crooks" is a wacky comedy that had my giggling for its entire running length. The zany characters, the dialogues, the story itself, everything feels surprisingly fresh and real, despite the fact that we have seen a great many bumbling crooks before. The way Woody Allen tells his story, is so charming and personal however, that once again, he manages to create something uniquely his. Fans will love the fact that he finally returned to his roots with this film, and for everyone else, I have only one recommendation. Check this disc out. It most certainly is not a cookie-cutter movie…