The People vs. Larry Flynt 1.0 stars

Title notwithstanding, the scope is broadly biographical, not narrowly judicial, with the protagonist's character set in concrete as a moonshine-peddling urchin in rural Kentucky ("You can't be so ornery. People'll think you're crazy!" "Naw, I'm just trying to make an honest buck"). Jump forward to the Hustler Go-Go Club in Cincinnati, and a step-by-step refresher course in the career highlights of the publisher of Hustler magazine: the Jackie Onassis issue ("First Pussy"), the religious "epiphany," the assassination attempt and resulting paralysis, the DeLorean tape, the Campari-ad parody at the expense of Rev. Jerry Falwell, and the assorted court battles that accompanied all this. We get more of Flynt the man -- Flynt the sleazebag, Flynt the nutball -- than we may want or need. The surrounding seaminess is often well captured, and director Milos Forman certainly hasn't taken the easy road to a defense of free expression. (He could have dramatized, say, the efforts to suppress Ulysses.) But when it comes time to make his Points, he makes them heavy-handedly: "We must prevent the destruction of the soul of our country," pontificates one moral watchdog, and the camera pans down to a name tag that identifies him as Charles Keating! And, while having no time for Flynt's prosecutors, Forman hangs on every word of his defense attorney (the boyish Edward Norton) as if the fellow were Thomas Jefferson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Clarence Darrow rolled into one. With Woody Harrelson, Courtney Love. 1996.

Duncan Shepherd

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