By Owen Gleiberman
Updated January 17, 1997 at 05:00 AM EST

THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT (R) An exultant comedy of American repression and revolt. Milos Forman’s docudrama tells the wild, circuslike tale of Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt’s battles over the First Amendment. What the film recognizes is that this legal war emerged from something in Flynt’s character — an insurrectionary zeal inseparable from the shamelessness that inspired him to create Hustler in the first place. Woody Harrelson’s audacious performance takes off after Flynt has been shot and paralyzed. Medicated and enraged, his voice a nerve-damaged mumble, Flynt suddenly has nothing to lose, and so he becomes the whacked-out Lenny Bruce of porn. The film catches us by surprise in its moving portrayal of the love between Larry and Althea, played by Courtney Love in a performance that glides from kinky abandon to stark tragedy. She makes us feel how much Flynt lost, even as he won the fight of his life. A