Steal This Movie!, a biopic about political activist Abbie Hoffman, takes its title from Steal This Book, Hoffman's autobiography of sorts, which chronicled his exploits in the late 1960s and beyond. A left-wing political organizer and gadfly, Hoffman was one of the founders of the Yippies, a band of would-be revolutionaries who protested the Vietnam War, racism, police riots and similar social ills at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Hoffman stood trial as one of the so-called Chicago Seven for inciting the riots, but was released on appeal. Over the years, he functioned as a humorous New Left observer whose antics belied his skill in stirring up political cauldrons.

In director Robert Greenwald's film, Hoffman takes center stage, thanks to Vincent D'Onofrio's superb rendering of this complex figure, who was as capable of motivating his followers as he was of tweaking his political enemies. Although D'Onofrio looks more striking on screen than Hoffman did in real life, the latter character benefits from the actor's well-crafted, charismatic performance.

Bruce Graham's screenplay crams in as much of Hoffman's life as can be expected, given the 20 years or more that Abbie struggled to stir the political waters, often without tangible results. Hoffman's long-suffering wife Anita, played effectively by Janeane Garofalo, comes across as a loyal, well-meaning admirer who perhaps deserved better. Anita's successor, Johanna (Jeanne Tripplehorn), is a blonde beauty who stands by her man even while the two of them are stalked by the FBI. In his later years, Abbie Hoffman returned to the political fray as an environmental activist with the alias 'Barry Freed' in upstate New York.

Why an Abbie Hoffman movie and why now, one might wonder. Surely, a documentary about Hoffman could have put events more in perspective. Instead, Steal This Movie! seems to be caught between preaching to the converted and reinventing a complex real-life individual without fully exploring that person's humor, complexity and contradictions.

Watching Steal This Movie! is at times like viewing psychedelic flashbacks from the 1960s. Aside from the serious events swirling around Abbie and his cohorts, one can't help gaping at the parade of 'groovy' clothes and hairdos that helped to define that decade. Perhaps it wasn't the politics that ticked off the so-called Establishment. Maybe it was just the bad taste.

--Ed Kelleher