This Agent 99 is a more shrewdly updated model. She’s not the super-competent Barbara Feldon straight woman whose mushy subtext was to preserve Smart’s delusions of potency. Here, she’s a bratty show-off—a perfectly cast Anne Hathaway dressed to the 99s in Chanel. Like most young actresses, Hathaway has dropped too many pounds—in a couple of shots her cheeks have sunken so deep that they can barely hold her giant teeth. But the sleekness, the hard lines, the blacks and bright greens against that ivory skin—yowza. I also like the scene where she wears a tousled jacket and loosened tie: It says, “Okay, boys. Deal me in.” After this and The Devil Wears Prada, Hathaway must have designers camping out in front of her co-op.
As the Chief, the straight man, Alan Arkin gets to show off some of the best timing in movies. Watch how he expels a wordy one-liner involving a giant swordfish in one perfectly calibrated breath: A good bit becomes a haymaker. Too bad about Terence Stamp as the kaos kingpin Siegfried: The character is no longer an ethnic joke, but now he’s not much of anything. There’s a lot in the mix: Dwayne Johnson and his muscles as the agency stud; a giant killer (wrestler Dalip Singh) modeled on Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me; mild barbs at Bush and Cheney balanced by a yellowcake-uranium threat that turns out to be real (makes a change); and star cameos. To keep the groundlings happy, there are more spectacular chases and shoot-outs than in many genuine action movies.
The best scene, though, makes the case for elegance, even in broad comedy. It’s a bit at a hoity-toity Russian black-tie affair where 99—looking like the Mata Hari of our dreams in a jaw-dropping green gown slit in all the right places—waltzes off with the suave-baddie host, and jealous Max hits the floor with an obese young woman (Lindsay Hollister). It turns out that Hollister is enchantingly light on her feet, and Carell—this is his gift—makes his fatuousness seem like a state of grace.
Alex Gibney’s Gonzo: The Life & Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson is a tender, even-tempered elegy to a writer who at his peak could ingest staggering (literally) amounts of drugs and alcohol and transform, like Popeye after a can of spinach, into a superhuman version of himself—more trenchant, more cutting, more hilarious than any political journalist before or since. Writers of my generation rocked out to his prose. We dreamed of living that large. We drank whiskey from the bottle, gobbled down speed, and threw ourselves onto our manual typewriters. The upshot was posturing horseshit and trips to the emergency room. No one but Thompson succeeded in being at once so addled and so lucid—and after a while, tragically, neither did Thompson.
Gibney, who took home an Oscar for Taxi to the Dark Side, his clear-eyed look at U.S.-sanctioned torture, sees Thompson as the kind of writer who, in a just universe, could have roused the populace to beat back the devil-bats Cheney and Bush. It’s good to recall how inspiring Thompson’s voice was in its prime. Although the readings by onetime Thompson impersonator Johnny Depp are a tad orotund, just hearing the words ibogaine and Muskie in the same sentence was enough to trigger my sense memories of laughing so hard at Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail I nearly swallowed my tongue. Footage of Thompson in his Hell’s Angels phase reminds you how many personae he straddled—the effete cigarette-holder freak and the hard-drinking motorcycle gunslinger. He was the most stirring advocate imaginable for George McGovern and Jimmy Carter, good men and true (both interviewed here), yet compared to Thompson rather limp fish.
Douglas Brinkley (biographer) and Timothy Crouse (Boswell on the campaign trail) do a neat job of putting the work in historical context, while his first wife, Sandy, evokes a life in the Colorado compound that was more guns than roses. I missed two things in Gonzo. There’s no mention of Thompson’s account of the ’72 Democratic convention machinations that won McGovern the nomination—a dispatch that proves how far a gonzo reporter can go when all the circuits are firing. The second is footage of Thompson in his last decades, when he was so arrogantly incoherent that even his most adoring fans were disgusted. Gibney probably thought such footage would be exploitive, but it’s part of Thompson’s legacy, too. And watching him try—and fail—to recover the glorious voice of gonzo can only deepen our awe at how high he flew for a time.