Rollerball (2002)

Rollerball is a brutal sport that has become popular throughout the world, which is played in central Asia.

Almost since the beginning of film as a media there has been those movies that were remakes of originals. This class of film ranges from shot by shot remakes such as Gus Van Sant’s Psycho to the latest trend of ‘reimagined’ films such as ‘Planet of the Apes’ the film under consideration here Rollerball.

The original flick by director Norman Jewison was a classic. It depicted the fight of the individual against the oppression of the powerful. Unfortunately, the remake has little to do with this theme and resembles the original in name only. Some may say that comparisons between a film and the reimagined copy are unfair. If the creators of Rollerball did not want to encourage such comparisons they should have named it differently.

In this modern incarnation Rollerball (2002) follows Jonathan Cross (Chris Klein), a daredevil that loves to live life on the edge and beyond. His introduction is a scene when he land luges down the hills of San Francisco. Just when the police are about to capture him, Cross is saved by an old friend, Marcus Ridley (LL Cool J) who invites Cross to join the Rollerball league. Rollerball is a brutal sport that has become popular throughout the world, which is played in central Asia. The ‘sport’ consists of a figure eight rink with several tunnels and sidetracks where players on motorcycles and inline skates compete to toss a small metal ball into a goal. Jonathan quickly becomes the premier player, loved by the fans and feared by the opposite teams. Soon Jonathan, Ridley and Aurora (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) learn that the promoter of Rollberball, Petrovich (Jean Reno) is causing ‘accidents’ to boost ratings to make the sport attractive to American cable television. The film rapidly descends into a series of chases, fights and gratuitous violence of all sorts. The impact of the original is lost in an ultra-violent music montage. The story has more holes in to than a piece of lace. Considering that cable TV has shows dedicated to bass fishing ir is too much of a stretch to think that anyone would go to the point of mayhem and murder in order to get a cable deal. Rather than staying with the theme of individuality the film degenerates into a rip off of Spartacus with Jonathan leading a revolt of the players and crowd against the owners and networks. As with far too many films today the emphasis was placed on style and special effects rather than substance.

There are times when a weak script can be saved with a strong cast. Unfortunately, this was not the case here. Chris Klein is attempting to make the transition from teen comedies like American Pie to the action arena. His acting shows promise and he does have talent but this was the wrong vehicle for such a career move. He has what it takes for an action hero. He is good looking enough for the ladies; buff enough to make you believe he is doing what is shown and affable enough to be liked by the audience. Here, Klein is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is perhaps one of the most beautiful women in the world. I have seen her in several other venues and she can handle interviews and fashion shows but needs some more work on the dramatic front. One line of dialogue moved Rollerball to a fantasy where she feels a little scar on her face makes her ugly. Fantasy, pure fantasy. Her acting may have been showcased better if not for the ambiguous accent she adopted. Again, there is a lot of potential there. In the decades I have been watching films I have seen a lot of model transitioning to acting and Ms. Stamos has the potential but should be more careful in selecting scripts. Jean Reno was a disappointment as the Russian owner. First of all there is the French accent for a Russian character. Next, his character was two-dimensional, there was no real depth or motive that was plausible. The best actor in the bunch was LL Cool J. He has paid his dues as a sitcom star on TV and a sidekick character actor and provides the one performance I enjoyed.

John McTiernan seems to be reinventing his career doing remakes of Norman Jewison films. First there was ‘The Thomas Crown Affair’ and now Rollerball, somebody should stop him before he gets to ‘Ali’. McTiernan is an excellent director when he sticks to his own works. After all he brought us the best two of the Die Hard flicks and the classic Predator. We know he can do action like few can but here the complete rewrite of a well known and serious storyline detracts from his Rollerball standing on his own. The pacing is extremely fast. Rollerball cuts from scene to scene and shot to shot at a rate that would put a music video to shame. There is also a chase scene that for some reason was filmed through a green filter like the audience was wearing night vision goggles. There was a purity in the set up and execution of the original game of rollerball that is taken to a complexity that detracts from the story. The rapid cutting makes Rollerball feel like an extended trailer rather than a whole film.

The Rollerball disc is well presented. The audio is a booming Dolby 5.1 that often goes so heavy on the sub woofer that the actors are overpowered. The video is usually well done although some of the dark scenes seemed to me to be a bit difficult to make out details. The version provided on the DVD is rated ‘R’ instead of the theatrical ‘PG-13’. Mostly there was the addition of some extra violence and a brief, dark nude scene with Ms. Stamos. There is a commentary track featuring the actors and director and a music video by Rob Zombie that pays homage to ‘A Clockwork Orange’. Also included is a ‘video yearbook’ with a remix of scenes from the film. The original showed an individual overcoming oppression from an uncaring corporate mindset. This just shows that society craves more extreme sports from the comfort of their cable TV. Rollerball is a passible beer and pizza flick for a Saturday afternoon with friends.

Review by Doug MacLean of

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