Steal This Movie!

on August 18, 2000 by Wade Major
   Based on the life of '60s-era radical Abbie Hoffman, "Steal This Movie!" is the counterculture equivalent to "Man on the Moon," a competent yet ultimately unenlightened look at a figure who remains as enigmatic by film's end as he was at the beginning.

   Adapted from the books "To America With Love: Letters From The Underground" by Hoffman and his wife Anita, and "Abbie Hoffman, American Rebel" by Marty Jezer, "Steal This Movie!" endeavors to compress as much of Hoffman's (Vincent D'Onofrio) colorful personal and public life as possible into one movie, structured primarily on the flashback recollections of Anita Hoffman (Janeane Garofalo) and attorney Gerry Lefcourt (Kevin Pollak). Whether intended or not, the net result is a fragmented, largely episodic account that mostly just preaches to the choir, presenting plenty of facts but very little insight into the chaotic, frenetic mind that was Abbie Hoffman's.

   Part of the problem lies with D'Onofrio, who also served as the film's executive producer. While D'Onofrio's undeniable gifts as an actor occasionally spark to something meaningful, the greater part of his performance comes of as simply hysterical and shrill, an overwrought portrait of a raving lunatic who just happened to be exceedingly principled. At the same time, the film never sufficiently narrows its focus nor abates its pace to make any kind of pertinent observations into its characters or the era. Seemingly more concerned with presenting a historical slide-show than a serious character study, screenwriter Bruce Graham and director Robert Greenwald speed through time, slowing down only where the public record becomes the most dense. It is no coincidence that the film's best moments center around the "Chicago 7" trial, the only point at which the film seems willing to take its time and not rush on to the next chapter in Abbie's life.

   Unfortunately, it's a high point that comes and goes all to quickly as the film decelerates into the present day where, like Abbie, it finds depressingly little dissent to sustain a life structured solely, and somewhat emptily, on protest.    Starring Vincent D'Onofrio, Janeane Garofalo, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Kevin Pollak, Donal Logue and Kevin Corrigan. Directed by Robert Greenwald. Written by Bruce Graham. Produced by Robert Greenwald and Jacobus Rose. A Lions Gate release. Biographical drama. Rated R for language, drug content and some nudity. Running time: 106 min.

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