Owen Gleiberman
September 01, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Steal This Movie

Current Status
In Season
108 minutes
Vincent D'Onofrio, Janeane Garofalo, Jeanne Tripplehorn
Robert Greenwald

We gave it a C+

I was a bring-down-the-establishment Marxist revolutionary when I was 11. It was the early ’70s, and my Bible was the transcript of the Chicago Seven trial, which showcased Abbie Hoffman’s ability to bait authority with jubilant nonchalance. For a radical outlaw, he took himself less seriously than Thomas Jefferson or Lenny Bruce.

Steal This Movie, which has been built around the key events of Hoffman’s life, treats his gadfly-intellectual, guerrilla-theater feistiness as one more sacred countercultural touchstone. The movie is scrappy and rambling and overly earnest, but beyond the galumphing biopic-of-the-week dialogue, the cruddy lighting, the thin and laborious Abbie’s-wife-remembers-the-Movement-in-flashback structure, the real problem is the one that has bedeviled just about every attempt to portray the ’60s on film: The movie makes the mistake of viewing people who defined themselves by their beliefs as if that was really all there was to them.

Vincent D’Onofrio, hidden behind a mop of curls, speaking in a New England accent so pointed it sounds like it belongs in a dinner-theater production of Our Town, plays Hoffman with vibrance and a certain cuddly charm, but what’s missing is the full, sharp thrust of his sly-dog ego. No one in ’60s movies is ever allowed to be a volatile, mixed-motive narcissist. This remains one era whose memories have been all but emasculated through reverence. C+

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