The word “saint” isn’t included in the title of “Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel,” but it might as well be. At 135 minutes, this fawning docu goes to lengths to portray the octogenarian Playboy magazine founder as among the greatest figures of 20th-century American popular culture, while only cursorily acknowledging his status as a pioneering softcore pornographer. By the time this oddly chaste, celebrity-studded film gets around to mentioning Hef’s abiding love of animals, even a Bunny will want to hop elsewhere. The Playboy Channel would seem the ideal venue for a pic more flattering than the subject himself could have produced.
Gene Simmons of rock-band Kiss begins the film by saying he doesn’t know anyone who wouldn’t give one of two distinctly male body parts to be Hefner, and director Brigitte Berman doesn’t appear to disagree that the multimillionaire ladies’ man is eminently enviable. Tracing Hef’s early life from his Depression-era roots through his psych major in college and visionary investment in an upscale men’s mag, Berman fixates on her subject’s liberal causes and resists the temptation to have naughty fun with the narrative. Tech credits, too, are tasteful.