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'Steal This Movie!': It's Not Exactly Radical

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 25, 2000


    'Steal This Movie' Vincent D'Onofrio and Janeane Garofalo star in the scrapbook flavored "Steal This Movie." (Lions Gate Films)
"Steal This Movie!," an appreciative biography of late anti-war activist Abbie Hoffman, evokes the era but doesn't really pick up on '60s vibes. It's happening, but it isn't happenin'. You dig?

Despite persuasive performances from Vincent D'Onofrio, Janeane Garofalo and Jeanne Tripplehorn, the movie lacks the passion of its hero's convictions. Hoffman was a wildly inventive firebrand ablaze with world-beating brio and an enduring contempt for the status quo.

Although "Steal This Movie!" comes with the groovy tunes, tie-dyed fashions and radical rhetoric, it couldn't be any less revolutionary in style. It is straighter than a guitar string.

The best man for this job would have been Oliver Stone, whose "Born on the Fourth of July" re-creates the instability of the nation better than any other film about the period. After all, the times they were a-changin', the Age of Aquarius was dawning and the answers were blowin' in the wind. But although director Robert Greenwald's docu-dramedy comes with compelling archival footage, his presentation is stale--as fixed and earnest as only an old lefty can be.

Hoffman, a paranoid manic-depressive, was an emotional swinger, a blur of energy when he was up, rabbity and terrified when down. The paranoia, as his old friend Greenwald effectively illustrates, was well founded. The FBI, Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover really were out to get him.

Garofalo, as Hoffman's wife and soul mate, Anita, steps from behind her acerbic shield and gives an honest, career-best performance. The story unfolds during an interview with a reporter whose questions trigger Anita's flashbacks: their courtship and marriage, the Yippie planning sessions, the mass demonstrations and finally Hoffman's years underground.

D'Onofrio, also starring in the puerile swill that is "The Cell," nails the many moods of the hero: from buttoned-down student activist to fervent Sunny's Surplus-clad consciousness-raiser to persecuted fugitive "Barry Freed." The film's high points include his ringmastering of the circuslike trial of the Chicago Eight, who were accused of conspiracy to incite the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

For those who didn't live through the times, justice was in jeopardy. Black Panther leader Bobby Seale wouldn't shut up, so he was bound and gagged, while Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden and the others donned robes to show their contempt for the judge's tactics and what they called his kangaroo court.

The movie's finest scenes center on the loving relationship between Hoffman and Anita, who were still mad for each other when Abbie went underground, leaving her with their young son. And subsequently the kinship between Anita and Johanna Lawrenson (a tender, thoughtful Tripplehorn), who became Hoffman's steadfast companion during his years underground.

Abbie certainly did believe in making love as well as war. But it wasn't just love for Anita, Johanna and his son, but a profound and abiding affair with his country, that made the man. And that ain't all bad. So, in keeping with Abbie's spirit, you just might want to liberate the video.

Peace, man.

STEAL THIS MOVIE! (R, 107 minutes) – Contains adult language, drug content and nudity.


© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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