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Whip It (2009)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 1/26/2010

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/1/2010

We've chatted before about sports movies and how ubiquitous they've become, and it seems like more and more arrive every year. (And with the recent success of The Blind Side, I can only assume that more are on the way.) If nothing else, one nice thing about these movies is that our familiarity with the sport in question grants us immediate access to the story. Sure, some movies have to remind us of specific aspects of football, baseball or basketball, but rarely is much of the running time spent on explaining the game. But, what if this did occur in a movie? What if a movie presented us with an activity with which most of us weren't familiar and therefore it had to keep explaining it to us...over and over again. Wouldn't this be a bad sign? Trust me, it is, and Whip It is here to prove it.

Ellen Page stars in Whip It as Bliss Cavendar, a 17-year old girl who lives in a small Texas town. She works at the "Oink Joint" and longs to escape from the town. Her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) sees pageants as Bliss' key to the future and insists that her daughter participate in them. While shopping in Austin, Bliss sees a flyer for a roller derby. She convinces her best friend, Pash (Alia Shawkat), to sneak to the big city with her and when Bliss sees the roller derby girls in action, she's immediately hooked. She approaches Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig) to complement her, and Maggie tells Bliss that if she enjoyed it, then she should try out. Seeing this as a way to rebel, Bliss lies about her age, goes to the try-outs and actually gets a spot on the "Hurl Scouts". Dubbing herself "Babe Ruthless" and convincing her parents that she's going to an SAT prep class, Bliss immerses herself in the world of roller derby. She soon finds that she loves the adrenaline rush, the camaraderie with the other members of her team, and the attention of the young men (especially Landon Pigg). But, how long can she hide this from her parents?

Whip It marks the directorial debut of Drew Barrymore, who also appears in the film as “Smashlee Simpson”, a member of the “Hurl Scouts”. As you know, Barrymore has been acting since childhood, and she’s been producing movies for years, so a move into the director’s chair is a natural progression of her career. (Note: I never said that she was qualified, I said that it made sense.) Given this, she probably could have picked any project that she wanted. So, why this one? There are no extras on the Blu-ray Disc which feature comments from Barrymore, so we’re in the dark on this one. And, in the end, it’s not Barrymore’s direction which undoes the film (sort of), but it’s the story and the acting.

Is roller derby an interesting topic for a movie? I really don’t know, as it’s not presented in an interesting way here. With every meet, the rules of the game are explained over and over again. Why? Because even with multiple explanations, the sport (?) never makes much sense. (I chalk some of this up to the fact that we are seeing a movie with shots which last for a certain duration and we can see the entire track all at once.) While watching the movie, I couldn’t help but wonder if test audiences had trouble understanding roller derby, so constant overviews were edited into the film. During every meet, emcee Johnny Rocket (Jimmy Fallon) goes over the rules. He’s usually off-screen, so this dialogue could have easily been edited into the film. The rules of roller derby aside, the sport simply isn’t that interesting to watch and the way that Whip It is shot makes it look very redundant.

The casting also hurts the movie. Despite that fact that Juno was a well-made movie, I’ve never gotten on-board the Ellen Page bandwagon, and I really didn’t like her in Whip It. I feel that she has very limited range and Bliss isn’t that far from being Juno. Page comes across as the love-child of Julia Stiles and Janeane Garofalo, and it appears that she can only play characters who are highly intelligent and tragically hip. As portrayed by Page, there’s nothing appealing about Bliss, and thus it’s difficult to get behind her story. I also had issues with Barrymore and Wiig trying to play tough-girls -- I simply didn’t buy it. Now, Juliette Lewis as their unhinged rival? That, I believe.

As I mentioned above, I blame the script more for Whip It’s failure than I do Barrymore’s direction. However, the director is involved in the editing process and at nearly 2 hours, this movie is way too long. Being a sports movie, where the underdog rises to the top, there are few surprises, and thus, Barrymore could have chose a more concise path to the conclusion. Would I watch another one of her films? Sure, but I hope that she does a better job with the source material next time.

Whip It is filled with scantily-clad women who somehow aren’t sexy on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 35 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing essentially no grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look very good, most notably the colorful uniforms worn by the derby teams. The image is never overly dark or bright. The picture shows a nice amount of detail and the depth is satisfying. The Disc offers a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.8 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track really comes to life during the derby events. The sounds of the race and the crowd produce impressive stereo and surround sound effects which are highly detailed and show very good separation. The punches and falls during the meets provide solid subwoofer effects.

The Whip It Blu-ray Disc contains only two extras. The Disc carries nine DELETED SCENES which run about 16 minutes. There are a few new scenes here, but many of these scenes are simply longer or alternate versions of scenes from the movie. In short, there are no new characters or subplots here and nothing groundbreaking. "Fox Movie Channel Presents Writer's Draft: Shauna Cross" (3 minutes) is a brief interview with the screenwriter who decsribes the origin of the story and her view on it.

Review Copyright 2010 by Mike Long