Steal This Movie! Movie Review

In case you were wondering, no, Steal This Movie! is not an adaptation of activist Abbie Hoffman's Steal This Book, his 1971 how-to manifesto about beating the system. Now that would've been a creative film. Instead, it's a take on two other books, Hoffman's Letters from the Underground and Marty Jezer's Abbie Hoffman: American Rebel, combining to form the biography of America's most notorious and ego-driven radical. Unfortunately, Steal This Movie! is neither notorious nor radical, and while showing off a talented cast in some lively sequences, it tramples down some tired old trails.

As played by the ferocious Vincent D'Onofrio, Hoffman, in short, was a lunatic. A smart, ambitious, caring, vigilant lunatic. (Actually, he was eventually diagnosed as bipolar.) His group of free thinkers and anti-establishment yippies performed shockingly funny acts, some resembling performance art, all in the name of rights and equality. Director Robert Greenwald takes us along into Hoffman's world: the band "holds up" a city bus, taking people's clothes and then giving them away to those in need, and chucks dollar bills on the floor of a stock exchange to watch everyone grovel. Hoffman meets his wife-to-be Anita, keeps up the anti-war cause, and realizes that he'll probably be a lifelong organizer.

Greenwald is doing his best Oliver Stone impersonation. He stands firmly on the side of the yippies to the point of preachiness, he intercuts actual protest footage with grainy, hand-held, tight shots of the actors and atmosphere, and he plays with hokey cinematic tricks done better on The X-Files, such as cutting to a black-and-white surveillance shot of a scene, and superimposing a fake FBI file name on the screen. There is indeed someone out there, and Greenwald just never lets us forget it.

To add insult, the framework of the movie actually mimics Citizen Kane! A writer is travelling to visit the people that knew Abbie, trying to get to the bottom of the Abbie Hoffman story! If this is the only way that Greenwald and screenwriter Bruce Graham can think to tell the story non-linearly, they should borrow from something a little less ambitious. There's even a shot of the writer peering down a long hall at the FBI, with stacks and stacks of boxes bearing down upon him, the secret to Abbie's paranoia hidden somewhere -- probably in a box marked Rosebud.

Steal This Movie! is eventually nothing more than a better-than-average TV movie -- ironic since most of Greenwald's work has been TV -- but with a great cast. The players, led by the sometimes touching D'Onofrio, are the pulse and reality that make the movie bearable and even fun. Independent mainstay Kevin Corrigan is Jerry Rubin, The Tao of Steve's Donal Logue (in his 29th movie) is Stew Albert, and in an underwritten and wasted role, Kevin Pollak is Abbie's lawyer, Gerry Lefcourt. All are believable and natural, in spite of the script, but Janeane Garofalo makes it all worth watching, again. She plays Anita Hoffman as wide-eyed, resilient, pragmatic, emotional, and she nails it all. Garofalo has shown her chops with comic and romantic dialogue, but this movie finally gives her the chance to put all her talents out there. She makes some daring choices that highlight Anita's love and sympathy, and many times, this is Garofalo's movie.

This movie, with its added schlock of timely pop hits throughout, ultimately feels like it should be on NBC during sweeps. You'd think a story about subversiveness and freedom would be a little more daring as a film. Go for the cool cast. Then see if you can steal your seven bucks back.

Giddy-up, Abbie!


Steal This Movie! Rating

" Weak "

Rating: R, 2000


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