The year is 2005 and the number one sport, at least in the former Soviet Union for some reason, is a mixture of roller derby, football and some kind of ESPN X-game. The man behind Rollerball is Alexi Petrovich (Jean Reno), who still thirsts for that lucrative cable contract with the U.S. and just might do anything to get it. Play suspicious music here.
Jonathan Cross (Chris Klein) is an NHL draft pick in trouble with the law after a stupid high speed street race. His pal Marcus Ridley (LL Cool J) tells him of a new extreme sport catching on in Central Asia, and Jonathan accepts his offer. The two are enjoying their success in Spandex but start to have reservations when they notice Petrovich including more violence as a ratings booster. Jonathan can’t just look the other way. Because he’s the good guy. So after a botched escape (shot infuriatingly all in what seems like night vision green) he collects his fellow ballers to rebel against Petrovich and whatever. As you can easily see, the story of Rollerball is not exactly its strong point. Not that there is a strong point in Rollerball.
The original Rollerball came out in 1975 and was full of political themes like corporate dictatorships and Orwellian observations on a dominated, passive society where war and nationalism have been replaced with a roller sport. Though the themes of this James Caan vehicle were a bit heavy-handed at times, the action was rather impressive especially as the corporations try their best to squash Caan in a bloody onslaught of an ending. The 1975 Rollerball had a political message and some nice action. What does the 2002 version have? Try banality and plenty of it.
Klein is possibly the blandest action hero since Ralph Macchio tried to wax a car. Klein came to the limelight through movies like American Pie and Election, and if his dimwitted deer-in-headlights look wasn’t doing it for you before then God help you with his performance in Rollerball.
Rebecca Romijn-Stamos plays Klein’s teammate and lover on the Rollerball circuit. He tells her at one point that her face isn’t as bad as she feels (she has a scar over one eye but still looks mighty attractive), proving Klein has indeed seen her blue-nude performance in X-Men. Reno deserves a trophy for even delivering the majority of his lines with a straight face.
Oh how the mighty have fallen John McTiernan. You once directed such great 80s action movies like Die Hard, The Hunt for the Red October, and Predator but now you spend your days remaking old Norman Jewison films. It began with the lukewarm remake of The Thomas Crown Affair and now a boring re-cooking of Rollerball follows it up. Can a remake of F.I.S.T. or Fiddler on the Roof be the only thing we have to look forward to now?
The most jarring problem with Rollerball, and there are so many to choose from, is the hack editing choices made. The way the movie plays one wonders if they threw all their footage in a wood chipper and grabbed whatever pieces they could and glued them into a movie. Scenes exist but appear in no discernible pattern or order. All one sees in their chair is a whirl of colors and you might be wondering if you stepped into Kaleidoscope: The Motion Picture.
The story behind this Rollerball was that it was originally slated to come out August of 2001 but after test screenings that left people howling the studio bumped it to the winter and cut it from an R to a more commercial PG-13. Lost in this cost-cutting maneuver are gore (which you would think would be important for a violent future gladiator sport) and a nude scene involving Romijn-Stamos. Which version would you have rather seen?
Rollerball is a laughably noisy and empty film that will leave your head spinning for all the wrong reasons. It’s likely the worst flick you’ll see for 2002 right now, that is, until the following week when Britney’s near-certain train wreck of a film debut opens. But until that time Rollerball is the true champion – of boredom and stupidity.
Nate’s Grade: D