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Friday September 1, 2000

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Nothing to steal here

By Shaun Clayton

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Film on counterculture radical Hoffman confusing, poorly

"Steal This Movie"? Why?

This film about 1960s radical Abbie Hoffman is not unlike a piece of art from someone who sneezes on a canvas and titles it "love" - it is difficult to look at, pretentious and has meaning to only a few.

Director Robert Greenwald, who is perhaps best known for 1980s "Xanadu" - the only film to mix Greek gods with disco - should have retired while he was behind. Perhaps the only reason Greenwald got to direct this film is because Greenwald knew Hoffman during his years in hiding from the FBI.

Hoffman and his Youth International Party, the "Yippies," were a thorn in the side of the status quo during the Vietnam Era. They engaged in such antics as throwing money on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, causing the traders to fall to their knees grasping for cash.

Another of their major exploits was the rally they held outside the 1968 Democratic convention, nominating a pig for president. The rally was violently ended by police, and Hoffman and a group of Yippie leaders - later known as the "Chicago 8" - were charged with causing the ensuing riot.

The first half of this film is like a Ken Burns documentary - if Bonzo the Chimp were editing. It is a mixture of archival footage and strange narrative (at one point, including a bad Nixon impression) piled on top of political messages - a combination that reduces Hoffman's exploits to meaningless drivel. It would have been nice to show more of the motive behind what Hoffman did instead of reducing it to a quick political slogan: "hell no, we won't go!"

The story begins to settle down in a form that is much easier to follow in the second half of the film, but sadly, that is the part of his life that is not the focus of the movie.

The film then ends abruptly with a message thrown at the viewer and expected to be understood, even after the previous hour and 45 minutes of miscommunication.

Abbie Hoffman is played by Vincent D'Onofrio, and he presents a very one-dimensional portrayal. D'Onofrio as Hoffman is a smart-ass lunatic and does not come across as believable. To be fair though, with this movie's lack of organization, D'Onofrio lacked the time in scenes most actors have to develop a character.

Then there is Janeane Garofalo, who plays Abbie's wife Anita. One has to respect Garofalo - as a comedy cult-heroine, she could have easily had her own sitcom by now. Instead, she keeps choosing new and difficult roles to play in indie films, and this one she pulls off quite admirably with a good range of emotion and depth.

It is too bad that "Steal This Movie" just is not worth stealing.

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