Movie Review - The People vs. Larry Flynt
'Flynt' hustles with style,
power, ideas

Harrelson BY MARGARET A. McGURK
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Leave it to a European sophisticate to make an inspirational film about America's demon prince of sleaze.

Director Milos Forman has done exactly that with The People vs. Larry Flynt, working from a crackerjack script by Ed Wood authors Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski.

With style and confidence, they reassert the boundless capacity of film to make provocative, full-bodied entertainment out of prickly ideas and unconventional human bonds.

This movie harkens back to a braver Hollywood - where studios made films like Mr. Forman's Oscar-winning One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, for instance - because it dares to take its absurd and troublesome subject seriously, interweaving giddy black humor with a tragic yarn.

The People vs. Larry Flynt is an ambitious success - subversive and surprising, funny and emotional. It has a point of view without pomposity. It is sly but not cynical.

It may look like a story about pornography and baiting the establishment; turns out it's about the power of love and faith in ideals.

The story begins during Larry Flynt's dirt-poor childhood in Eastern Kentucky, but quickly jumps to his early career as the owner of a go-go bar in Cincinnati. (In fact, he owned several bars, one of the many facts the movie sacrifices for simplicity.)

That's when Mr. Flynt began publishing what became Hustler magazine, and when he met Althea Leasure, who would become his fourth wife. Hustler led him into decades of tumultuous legal battles, prison, a religious conversion and an assassination attempt that left him paralyzed and addicted to drugs. Through it all, Althea was his loyal aide, adviser, cheerleader and friend - and ultimately, fellow addict.

As Mr. Flynt, former Lebanon resident Woody Harrelson is as good as we've ever seen him, giving a dead-on rendition of a part that gives his adventuresome instincts of room to bloom.

Courtney Love as Althea Flynt is a natural, delivering an uninhibited, creative performance that makes sense out of a woman who fit nobody's mold.

Together, Ms. Love and Mr. Harrelson concoct a chemistry that is more touching than torrid - an unexpected flavor for this alliance of sexual libertines and a key to the movie's success. For all their excesses of wealth and notoriety, theirs is an against-all-odds love story.

The other half of the movie is Mr. Flynt's life in court, which culminates in his Supreme Court victory over the Rev. Jerry Falwell on a libel-related case. The impressively talented Edward Norton is very good as attorney Alan Issacman, representing scores of abused attorneys that served Mr. Flynt through the years.

Unusual casting abounds - political strategist James Carville plays Hamilton County prosecutor Simon Leis Jr.; First Amendment lawyer Burt Neuborne plays Mr. Falwell's attorney Roy Grutman; newscaster Donna Hanover, wife of New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, plays evangelist Ruth Carter Stapleton, and Mr. Flynt himself plays Hamilton County Judge William Morrissey.

The most credible choice is Brett Harrelson, Woody's brother, to play Jimmy Flynt, the publisher's brother and right-hand-man and frequent object of his volatile moods.

The movie captures the heady feel of the times in a host of telling details in costumes, music and hairdos. Local audiences will notice that the Memphis locations doubling for Cincinnati are not convincing. In one post-trial scene on the courthouse steps, for instance, the words ''Franklin County'' are visible over the door.

MOVIE REVIEW
The People vs. Larry Flynt
****
(R; strong sexual material, language, nudity, drug use) Woody Harrelson, Courtney Love, Edward Norton, Brett Harrelson. 135 minutes. At National Amusements. Special invitation-only premiere is today at Showcase Cincinnati. The movie opens Friday.)