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This film is very, very loosely connected with the book "The Anarchist Cookbook," a collection of do-it-yourself explosives, weapons and other violent tools which has since been disavowed by its author. Aside from featuring the book, the movie has absolutely no connection to it.
The movie does connect to the life of college dropout Puck (Devon Gummersall), an intelligent anarchist who spends his days living in a commune of like-minded folks among them: Karla (Gina Philips), a man hating feminist, Johnny Red (John Savage) a peaceful old hippie and Double-D (Steve Van Wormer), Puck's dimwitted best friend. Aside from protesting "oppressive" government actions, everything is relatively calm on the commune as they wait for the revolution, that is until the appearance of Johnny Black (Dylan Bruno) a violent nihilist who dismisses their peaceful ways. Things start to spiral out of control as Johnny Black convinces the collective to take a more severe approach to anarchy.
For a movie about questioning conventions, the script is pretty conventional. In fact, it's wholly unoriginal. Puck starts out as a lethargic, idealistic layabout who after facing the folly of his lifestyle alters his flaws and somewhat adjusts to adult life. This exact story seems to be lifted from 1998's "SLC Punk!" and while "SLC" delivered scathing satire, "Cookbook" only gives an occasional wink to entrenched hypocrisies. Additionally the pace of the story is very schizophrenic with some scenes being unbearably slow and others whizzing by. Maddening director choices like this completely fumbles the central point. Once the film closes by condemning violence in all its forms, it feels like putting a bandaid on a tumor.
A movie that involves such a predictable character arch needs to be supplied with decent acting on the part of the lead, and though Devon Gummersall tries his best, he never seems to get his footing on the character. The supporting cast doesn't fair any better. Karla becomes obnoxious, John Savage seems to phone it in and the character of Double-D is nothing more than a caricature out of place with the presumably "developing characters".
Jordan Susman made a lukewarm entrance into the movie industry winning a second place prize in 1997 for his short film "Sitting in Limbo" at the Montreal Film Festival. "The Anarchist Cookbook," released five years later has shown little improvement. Some scenes seem to have been shot by different types of cameras and lighting for no stylistic reason other than clear budget restraints. The editing is sloppy and everything seems to just not mesh at all.
There is one bright light in the form of Dylan Bruno. Bruno manages to portray menace with such understated glee that he balances intelligence, cunning and meat-headed violence pretty well. Unfortunately even his character is a shadow of what could have been.
"The Anarchist Cookbook" is an ill-conceived mess. Neither funny or dramatically engrossing, it serves as a toothless and forgetful expose on a subculture that deserves more credit. Neither emotionally striking or politically resonant this film about anarchy simply lacks anarchistic spirit.
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