Picks and Pans Review: Flashback

updated 02/19/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/19/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

Dennis Hopper, Kiefer Sutherland

Like last summer's Rude Awakening, this film at times seems to be somebody's middle-aged attempt to retroactively validate his youthful rebelliousness back in the hippie-Yippie radical days of the '60s. As in: Hey, man, it wasn't all just drugs and rock festivals and peace signs; it was, like, meaningful.

There's a lot more to Flashback than that, however. Its effectiveness is due largely to Hopper, who plays an Abbie Hoffman-like radical buffoon who is at least as interested in self-promotion as he is in politics and who has spent the last 20 years as a fugitive from minor charges involving a political demonstration.

Hopper is all but a walking symbol of the era, of course. At one point he tells a couple of now middle-class former hippies, "You have to do more than go down to the video store and rent Easy Rider to rebel."

But Hopper also acts with a loose, rule-defying, consciously offensive style that perfectly evokes the turmoil of the '60s. And scriptwriter David Loughery, 35, has also provided Hopper with a character of enough complexity—at heart he considers himself a fraud—to arouse some difficult thoughts about the generation that liked to think of itself as so purely representing peace and love.

This film certainly has a much more serious core than its commercials and trailers suggest. Hopper does plenty of chiding and mugging as he is put into the custody of Sutherland, a stereotypically stuffy FBI agent assigned to take the prisoner from San Francisco to Spokane for trial.

But there's also serious violence and a corrupt sheriff who ends up chasing both Hopper and Sutherland. Most strikingly, there's a beautifully framed interlude in which Carol Kane, as an unreconstructed flower child who still lives on what used to be a commune (though she's now there by herself), eloquently reminds Hopper of what he had accomplished, albeit in spite of himself.

The details of the plot wither quickly under scrutiny, particularly the twist that has Sutherland throwing over the bureau to help Hopper make his escape and the mega-coincidence that as a boy Sutherland was named "Free" and lived on Kane's commune. Then too, Sutherland is such a lightweight actor he would have trouble making an impact if he fell off a 20-story building into a vat of wet cement; he never provides the substantial foil that might have made Hopper's performance really powerful.

Nonetheless, for a film directed by a foreigner—Italian Franco Amurri—Flashback shows an acute awareness of recent American mythology. It's a movie that seems to not trust anyone over 30 but likes them anyway. (R)

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