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Originally published November 11, 2010 at 3:02 PM | Page modified November 11, 2010 at 4:20 PM

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Movie review

'Brutal Beauty: Tales of the Rose City Rollers': a lively look at Portland's roller-derby league

"Brutal Beauty: Tales of the Rose City Rollers" is an upbeat though somewhat repetitious look at the teams and players in Portland's Rose City Rollers roller-derby league.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

'Brutal Beauty: Tales of the Rose City Rollers,' a documentary directed by Chip Mabry. 80 minutes. Not rated; contains profanity. Grand Illusion, through Thursday. Mabry will attend some screenings.

While Seattle's roller-derby revival continues to thrive, Chip Mabry's fast-moving documentary "Brutal Beauty" takes a lively look at the four teams that make up Portland's all-women league of Rose City Rollers. With names such as The Heartless Heathers, Guns N' Rollers, The High Rollers and The Breakneck Betties, the teams reflect the same punkabilly aesthetic that fuels the Rat Rod craze among low-budget hot rodders.

But there's more going on than simple nostalgia. Roller derby has always been an arena for feminist pride, but its 21st- century incarnation offers something more to its players. In the course of developing alter egos with names such as Sol Train, Cadillac, Madame Bumpsalot and the Salinger-inspired Scratcher in the Eye, these fiercely competitive women are discovering facets of their personalities that they can't express in their day jobs as librarians, day-care teachers and social workers.

"The universe wanted me to be a roller girl," says the brassy blonde who calls herself Marollin' Monroe, "and I obliged it." Some embrace roller derby as a healthy form of anger management, while the sporty Guns N' Rollers player Blood Clottia happily states that "roller derby saved my soul."

Mabry's film echoes that upbeat attitude, perhaps to a fault. Unlike "Murderball," its race-to-the-championship narrative (featuring the league's Wheels of Justice all-star team) has no intense rivalries to focus on, so its roller-derby evangelism grows slightly repetitious. And while High Rollers coach Rob Lobster gamely uses pastries to illustrate the rules of roller derby while working at Portland's celebrated Voodoo Doughnut shop, "Brutal Beauty" fails to fully convey the dynamics of the sport.

Boyfriends and husbands appear as staunch supporters but shouldn't the perspective of lesbian players also be included? Instead, the decidedly unbrutal "Brutal Beauty" (commercially sponsored by Rockstar energy drinks) aims for a safer, mainstream approach to the roller-derby craze. It's a lot of fun, but it's not the whole story.

Jeff Shannon:

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