By Richard Winters
My Rating: 2 out of 10
4-Word Review: Life on roller derby.
Raquel Welch plays K.C. Carr a struggling mother of two who goes all-out as the star in the roller derby circuit. She plays for the Kansas City Bombers, but then gets into a grudge match with Big Bertha (Patti ‘Moo Moo’ Cavin) with the loser agreeing to leave Kansas City and never return. Through some cheating by other teammates K.C. loses, but is soon picked up by the Portland Loggers whose owner (Kevin McCarthy) is quite impressed with her and promises to make her a star. The two eventually get into a relationship, but then she gets into yet another grudge match this time with the aging Jackie (Helena Kallianiotes) and the loser agreeing to leave Portland forever.
During the ‘70s the roller derby sport was all-the-rage and several films during the period were produced on the subject including The Unholy Rollers, which was also released in 1972 and starred Claudia Jennings as well as Derby, which was a documentary on the sport and came out a year before this one. I once went to a roller derby game a few years back in Indianapolis and I found it to be inane and boring, but there were indeed some people there that seemed to really get into it. In fact if there is one thing that this film does well it is the way it captures the spectators. Seeing many of them with missing teeth and looking like they would not fare too well on a college entrance exam, but getting extremely worked-up with the action in front of them solidly hits-the-mark on the mentality that one will find when attending these events.
The action though looks horribly fake and it’s obvious that the performers are pulling their punches during the fight sequences. I initially thought this was intentional and to show how the sport is really just about acting, but the script wants to play it like it’s for real, which makes the phony staged action look all the more ridiculous.
Welch’s presence is another hindrance. She’s a beautiful looking lady, but her acting has always been suspect. She manages to convey a toughness during the game sequences, but the character is just too nice and naïve otherwise. The film makes efforts to show the hard life and dehumanizing conditions that working in the business entails and yet somehow we are expected to believe this is the one person that has managed to ‘rise above it’ when in reality it would’ve dragged her down to its level, or at least made her more world-wise. The scene where she becomes ‘shocked’ at how the players are being ‘used’ and expresses this to the Kevin McCarthy character gets a good comeback from him when he states “We’re all being used…that’s the American way. You outta know that by now!” And the fact that she strangely doesn’t despite being supposedly a ‘seasoned’ player makes her character come off as poorly fleshed-out and hollow.
Her relationship with McCarthy is a major issue as he was 30 years older than her. The two share no chemistry and have little in common and watching this gray haired man walking hand-in-hand with a hot young chick comes off like an old fogey that’s porking his granddaughter.
The unintentionally funny climactic finish is pathetic and features the replay of the same hokey shot done from 3 different angles. The ending also leaves open a slew of unanswered questions while wasting the talents of a young Jodie Foster who appears only briefly as Welch’s daughter. I also didn’t get why it was entitled the Kansas City Bomber as the character spends only a brief time there while the bulk of the story takes place in the Pacific Northwest.
My Rating: 2 out of 10
Released: August 2, 1972
Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes
Director: Jerold Freedman
Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video, YouTube