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Drew Barrymore, left, Ellen Page and Kristen Wiig: Page is typically impressive but underchallenged by formulaic material. (Darren Michaels)
Drew Barrymore, left, Ellen Page and Kristen Wiig: Page is typically impressive but underchallenged by formulaic material. (Darren Michaels)

Think Hannah Montana on wheels, with sex and violence Add to ...

  • Country USA
  • Language English

Whip It

  • Directed by Drew Barrymore
  • Written by Shauna Cross
  • Starring Ellen Page, Kristen Wiig and Marcia Gay Harden
  • Classification: PG

Whip It is the directorial debut from Drew Barrymore and in many ways it's what you might expect from watching the actress's onscreen performances over almost three decades: Boisterous, cloying, simultaneously raunchy and innocent, hip and klutzy.

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The movie is also a showcase for contemporary roller derby, with its all-female, post-punk, campy aesthetic, adding up to a welcome variation on the conventional girl teen movie, as prom dresses and first kisses are traded in for knee pads and hip checks.

Adapted by former roller-derby skater Shauna Cross from her own teen novel, the story of Whip It is essentially The Hannah Montana Movie , but with sex, violence, tattoos and an alt-rock soundtrack. Once again, a high-school girl leads a double life in and out of showbiz, amidst romance, and lots of sisterly squeals and bonding.

Ellen Page, beguiling with long hair and oversized specs, plays 17-year-old Bliss Cavendar, who lives with her easy-going dad (Daniel Stern) and beauty pageant-obsessed mom (Marcia Gay Harden) in the flea-sized town of Bodeen, Tex.

After a life-changing encounter with some rough-and-tumble roller-derby gals from the Austin-based team, The Hurl Scouts, Bliss hears the call of the wheels. Progressing rapidly, she goes from a street klutz in Barbie skates to star of the show in a scene or two, while hiding her new career under the auspices of studying for college entrances or working with her best friend Pash (Alia Shawkat) at the Oink Joint diner.

The first thing that strikes you about casting the diminutive Ellen Page in a roller-derby movie is built-in trepidation: You fear she might get squashed like a baby bird under a cinder block. Cross's script makes some allowance for the improbability: Though she skates under the name Babe Ruthless, Bliss is more an evader than a slammer, capable of slipping around her brawnier rivals.

Not that the other cast members are especially scary, apart from their names. There's Saturday Night Live 's Kristen Wiig as Maggie Mayhem (screenwriter Cross's moniker when she skated); Barrymore as the injury-prone Smashley Simpson; singer Eve as Rosa Sparks (yes, the sole African-American trailblazer); and Juliette Lewis as Bliss's aging arch rival, Iron Maven.

Adding some muscle are stunt woman/actress Zoe Bell as Bloody Holly, and a couple of real-life skaters from L.A's Derby Dolls league, Kristen Adolfi and Rachel Piplica, as the reputedly violent Manson Sisters, a double nod both to the California death cult and the Hanson Brothers of George Roy Hill's Slap Shot .

The circus-like world of Bliss's new roller-derby family also includes some ancillary dudes, including the shaggy coach, Razor (Andrew Wilson, brother of Owen and Luke); Jimmy Fallon as a clownish horn-dog rink announcer and Landon Pigg as Oliver, the lanky indie-rock singer who becomes Bliss's romantic interest.

On the rink, the action scenes are only mildly rambunctious - more in the girl-bonding spirit of A League of Their Own than the widescreen action of Raquel Welch's camp classic Kansas City Bomber .

In its final third, the movie shifts tone as Page shows off her dramatic chops in a succession of one-on-one scenes, with her Mom, her Dad, her friend Pash, her unreliable boyfriend and her big sister confidant (Wiig). Page is typically impressive but underchallenged by formulaic material. After a while, you really start itching for Babe Ruthless to get out there and hit somebody.

Follow on Twitter: @liamlacey

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