Rollerball Movie Review
There's an idea behind remaking old movies that weren't that great in the first place: Instead of screwing up a classic, make a better version of a failed film. Witness, for example, Steven Soderbergh's smarter, snappier Rat Pack-less retread of "Ocean's Eleven," which got several times the cinematic mileage of its predecessor.
But this concept seems to be lost on flash-bang action director John McTiernan, whose vacuous, pure-noise-and-atmosphere update of 1975's "Rollerball" -- a cautionary, futuristic parable of extreme sports bloodlust -- is so devoid of substance it almost defies description.
Rollerball is a ferocious team sport -- part roller derby, part motocross, part World Wrestling Federation -- played in fictionalized and extremely corrupt Central Asian nations. The sport's biggest star is virtuous pall-American import Jonathan Cross (Chris Klein), who has just discovered the league owners are rigging the games for more violence because spilt blood spells ratings for their TV networks.
The two or three scenes that actually deal with plot find Jonathan trying to escape (apparently the owners will spare no expense to scare their players out of quitting) and, failing that, trying to avoid game-time assassination attempts in the Rollerball rink. While dodging death, he leads his glossy, leather-clad teammates -- who look like rejects from "Mad Max: The Musical" -- to victory in 90 minutes of heavy metal video montages, edited together by someone with the attention span of a gnat.
McTiernan takes several pages from Paul Verhoeven's half-witted "Starship Troopers" playbook, valuing stylish, pyrotechnic stunts above all else and plying "Rollerball" with actors who either chew scenery (Jean Reno as a greedy team owner) or lack the depth of scenery, like the benign Klein and model Rebecca Romijn-Stamos. She plays a scar-faced tough cookie Rollerball biker with a heart of gold.
Entire scenes serve no purpose, like this girl dragging Klein to a dilapidated Eastern Bloc apartment building to look for someone who isn't there and is never mentioned again. The film makes superficial attempts at dim-bulb irony (elementary "1984" allusions, etc.). The entirely arbitrary climax comes not because of a progression of the plot but simply because the script says it's time to wrap things up. Klein's inevitable showdown with Reno is so rudimentary it could have taken place any time after he feels the urge to squash the guy 30 minutes into the picture.
The 1975 "Rollerball" -- which took place in a sterile 21st Century when corporations have replaced countries -- at least had underlying omen-of-the-future themes. This version is nothing but an exploitation of the very thing it purports to condemn: virtually plotless violence as crass entertainment.
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