While watching “Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins” you can’t help regretting that the sharp-tongued political columnist didn’t live long enough to ante up her two cents on life in the age of Trump. No doubt, she would be scathingly funny and - as the title suggests - ornery as hell in tearing down the man posing the biggest threat to the thing she loved best: the First Amendment. I can just hear her repeating one of her most stinging lines, “If his IQ slips any lower, we’ll have to water him.”

Ah, but alas, she was taken too soon, succumbing to breast cancer in 2007. But in a way, you’re glad she didn’t live to see what Wall Street raiders have done to her beloved newspaper business. Heck, it was already getting ominous while she was alive. Even her own hometown rag, The Houston Chronicle, stopped publishing her twice-a-week column because the publisher didn’t like the way she was belittling his buddy, President George W. Bush.

Still, it was a great run while it lasted for the native Texan who steadfastly refused to let her degree from Smith put a polish on her bull-in-the-china-shop approach to political commentary. She was liberal, yes, but she loved being what she called a “Bubba,” a s----kicking, hard-drinking, pistol-packing son-of-a-gun who took guff from no one, not even her former boss at The New York Times, the immortal Abe Sulzberger, who hilariously called her onto the carpet for using the term “cluck” because it sounded too much like a popular epithet too blue for print.

That was so Molly. She lived for moments like that one - and the dozens of others director Janice Engel reveals in her otherwise conventional bio-doc covering all 62 years of Ivins’ eventful life. Her subject was a “Texan” through and through, but “Raise Hell” is geared for the Texan in all of us. That being anyone who’d like to walk up to their locally elected official and unload. Amazingly, most of her targets didn’t complain. It was truly a badge of honor to be ridiculed by Ivins. It was like a confirmation that you’d finally made it.

Among the harangued, the late Texas governor Ann Richards, an old school chum of Ivins, who could give as well as she could take whenever her name popped up in a column. Engel underscores it with a great clip of the two pals trading barbs at an Ann Richards roast. Clearly, neither possessed a thin skin. Of course, who’s going to summon the nerve to rassle with a “big-boned” woman towering 6-feet above the Texas cotton?

Yes, Ivins was physically imposing, but she was a gentle as a wounded bear. And did I mention funny as hell? I can’t count how many of her quips about stupid, corrupt politicians had me rolling on the floor. Unfortunately, most of them can’t be repeated in this gentile forum. But if you go, be sure to keep an ear out for possibly her best line ever when discussing a couple of good ol’ boys in the Texas legislature celebrating the passage of a bill outlawing sodomy in - 1993! Just classic!

As much of a card as Ivins was, Engel’s film hints at the darkness beneath the clown’s jovial exterior, most notably Ivins’ struggle with alcohol, a habit she formed back in the days when she’d hang with politicians in the local bars, feeling the need to always drink the men under the table - as if she had something to prove. And, in a way, she did. When she broke into the newspaper business back in the mid-1960s, it was unusual for a female reporter to venture beyond the dreaded “women’s pages.”

That’s where Molly’s size worked to her advantage. Her editors thought her big enough to handle herself, even in the chaos of a race riot. And it was in the middle of those melees that she became an uncompromising champion of civil rights. Yet, it was the haters for whom she fought the hardest. See, she was like Larry Flynt in arguing that the worst language is the best defense of the First Amendment. Not a lot of people liked that philosophy, but when did Ivins ever care what people thought?

She’s definitely polarizing but no more than folks like Rachel Maddow (who pops up once or twice in envious praise of Ivins) and Sean Hannity are today. But “Raise Hell” does make the subtle case that politics in Ivins prime was a gentler endeavor, free of grudges and resentments once the participants left the legislative battlefield. Sadly, that’s no longer the case, and even sadder, there’s no longer a Molly Ivins to keep the peace while raising hell.

By the early 2000s, she had bigger fights to fight when coming under attack by her own body. She wasn’t shy about the cancer eating away at her, continuing speaking engagements without donning a wig or pretense. And thank God for C-SPAN, from where Engel draws the majority of her archival clips. Ivins was a regular - popular or not - on the network and was just as cool and collected whether confronted by an adoring fan or a venomous enemy. She was, as always, just Molly being Molly. And the world of politics was all the better for it.

Al Alexander may be reached at alexandercritica@aol.com.

“Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins”
A documentary by Janice Engel featuring Molly Ivins, Dan Rather, Ann Richards and Cecile Richards.
(Not rated.)
Grade: B+