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[whitespace] Vincent D'Onofrio and Janeane Garofalo
Abbie Times Are Here Again: Vincent D'Onofrio and Janeane Garofalo play prankster activist Abbie Hoffman and his wife, Anita, in 'Steal This Movie.'

Running on Empty

The Abbie Hoffman story, sanitized for popular consumption

By Richard von Busack

ANOTHER WATERED-DOWN DOSE of counterculture glory, sanitized for your protection: Do not try this revolution at home; polygamy is not healthy for children or other living things; drugs are bad, m'kay? Even though Vincent D'Onofrio plays Abbie Hoffman, the pallid Steal This Movie is a Lifetime channel version of 1960s revolution. The film's decision to make Hoffman a nostalgia item is the first note of trouble. Steal This Movie begins in the mid-'70s, years after Hoffman has gone underground. Reporter David Glenn (Alan Van Spang) is interviewing Abbie's wife, Anita (Janeane Garofalo), and friends who knew him for a profile of the rebel.

One of the subjects is Abbie's lawyer (Kevin Pollak), who hints darkly of FBI schemes to discredit Hoffman. In flashback, we see Hoffman's actions: his demonstrations, his nomination of a pig for president and the trial of the Chicago Seven. Eventually, Hoffman is unearthed, living under an assumed name with his new girlfriend, Johanna (Jeanne Tripplehorn), in upstate New York. Hoffman's efforts to reach out to his estranged young son, america, are juxtaposed with the end of his long run as a fugitive and his problems with bipolar disorder.

The real Hoffman can be sampled in the pages of Steal This Book, from which the title of this movie is taken. Rejected by 30 publishers, Steal This Book is a 1971 version of The Anarchist Cookbook, with tips on shoplifting, hijacking planes, building pipe bombs--and more artsy-crafty stuff, like making sandals out of used automobile tires. Re-reading it, I can imagine that Hoffman would feel right at home today on the Internet, distributing pranks and communiqués of various usefulness.

It may be that Hoffman's seriousness is only proved in opposition to his serious enemies: the FBI and the Nixon regime's determination to stamp out extremists in the youth movement. Steal This Movie doesn't capture the funny side of Hoffman's protests. Not because time has made them unfunny, not at all, but because they're badly staged by director Robert Greenwald. The only way to make Hoffman live onscreen is to show him in his time, absolutely convinced that the government is about to topple. But Steal This Movie tells us that Hoffman's life as a husband and father is more interesting to a modern audience than the politics. Part of the film's failure is due to Garofalo, the most un-'60s actor imaginable. In one scene, she describes how she sometimes preferred it when her husband was sick, because then she could take care of him. "I don't know if that's normal or not," she says. Has Garofalo ever struck you as a woman who had a moment's doubt in her life about what was normal or not? On the contrary, her dedication to normalness is what makes her such a tiresome, limited performer.

At the end, D'Onofrio's Hoffman addresses the youth of today about their duty to be revolutionaries, but this film doesn't give them much impetus to rebel. Seeing Hoffman's pain, exile and paranoia would make them disinclined to struggle. If you were there in the 1960s, watching Steal This Movie will scramble your memories, leaving you feeling old and disappointed. If you're young, here's another impatience-producing lesson about what great days they were, and what a noble fight it all was ... and yes, mistakes were made--the usual lecture, nothing a young person wants or needs to hear.


Steal This Movie (R; 108 min.), directed by Robert Greenwald, written by Abbie and Anita Hoffmann, Marty Lezer and Bruce Graham, photographed by Denis Lenoir and starring Vincent D'Onofrio and Janeane Garofalo, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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From the August 17-23, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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