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By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 03, 1990


Franco Amurri
Dennis Hopper;
Kiefer Sutherland;
Carol Kane;
Cliff De Young;
Paul Dooley;
Richard Masur;
Michael McKean
some stiff language

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Back in the '60s, Huey Walker stood for something. His quiver stocked with irreverent jokes, he was a shaggy-haired archer firing bratty arrows into the uptight heart of the establishment. As the decade drew to a close, though, he stepped over the line once too often, and for uncoupling Spiro Agnew's railroad car during a whistle-stop tour of Oregon, he got himself arrested on a malicious mischief charge.

Normally this would be a minor offense. But, not willing to play the good boy and take his medicine, Huey escaped from the feds and went underground, opening himself to more serious charges. Now, 20 years later, he's turned himself over to the local authorities, and the FBI, eager to even the score after its earlier embarrassment, sends a still-wet-behind-the-ears agent named Buckner to bring him to trial.

This is the situation at the outset of "Flashback," Franco Amurri's bad-trip action comedy starring Dennis Hopper and Kiefer Sutherland. And before things get better and we can all go home, things get much worse. As soon as the spit-polished young agent gets Huey on the train, the unreconstructed love child -- whose misadventures are based loosely on those of real-life Yippie-leader Abbie Hoffman -- starts working on his head, playing mind games, all in the hopes of getting Buckner so confused that he'll be able to engineer yet another escape.

And sure enough, the kid turns out to be a perfect sucker. After Huey claims he has slipped acid into his water, Buckner becomes convinced that he's tripping and, taking Doctor Huey's advice, begins knocking back the tequila to offset the effects. This allows the wily hipster, who speaks in "Wow, man" catch phrases from the flower child handbook, to set him up with a hooker named Sparkle (Kathleen York), exchange clothes and, once they arrive at their destination, turn him over to the authorities.

Wall-to-wall with hit songs from the days of peace and love and protest, "Flashback" is mounted on a nostalgia for the '60s that seems to have been lifted wholesale from the pages of Life magazine. Or worse.

When it's revealed that Huey's capture was a publicity stunt designed to promote the book he's written about his life, we feel that some circle of awfulness has been completed. Hopper plays Huey as a kind of cartoon version of himself -- he's playing his own legend, which in addition to being grotesquely square, seems a tad premature. The main features of the performance are lifted from the outer-limits photographer he played in "Apocalypse Now" -- that and the antiheroic biker in "Easy Rider." All in all, what he indulges in here qualifies less as acting than as self-cannibalism.

Sutherland isn't acting either, but then at least he isn't making a tawdry spectacle of himself. His role is the tougher of the two, especially when his character is required to return to the hippie commune where he was raised and he has to convince us that his straight-arrow lifestyle is merely a reaction to the self-indulgent, unorthodox lives of his parents. Once there, he is reunited with Maggie, an old friend of his parents who knew him when his name was Free and his favorite toy was a Day-Glo Frisbee. (Yes, he gazes on it with tears glinting in the corners of his eyes.)

Maggie is played by Carol Kane, who is the one succulent morsel in the otherwise beastly stew -- and all this in the face of generational cliches that would shrivel the soul of even the most cynical advertising executive. Somehow, though, she slides past the treacherous embarrassments. How does she do it? And what's she doing up there? You got me. But ask me if I care. With movies like this, you could learn to despise the '60s.

"Flashback" is rated R, mostly for some stiff language.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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