Rollerball (2002) Movie Review

Seeing a movie remake inevitably leads viewers to make comparisons, matching up new casting choices, storylines, and updated themes. It happens all the time, as moviegoers may catch Open Your Eyes (Abre Los Ojos) or the original Thomas Crown Affair on video so they can compare, contrast, discuss. Well, it won't happen with Rollerball, a remake of the 1975 futuristic sports thriller, because the John McTiernan-directed update is so thoroughly bad, so outrageously uninteresting, and so poorly presented that it demands no comparison, perhaps not even to other terrible movies.

In line with the James Caan version, Jonathan Cross (the horrid Chris Klein) is a young hotshot athlete playing the dangerous, thrill-seeking game of Rollerball, a roller derby-style sport that pits armor-clad combatants on skates and motorcycles against one another, hoping to slam a metal ball into a goal.

In this version, the only mildly competent twist is that the game does well only in Eastern Asia, where oddball capitalism like Rollerball plays out just fine in nations looking to re-establish their value and undergo a little Westernization. (Perhaps the XFL should give it a go in Kazakhstan.)

As the game suffers a myriad of pressures from corporate ownership - namely from Jean Reno as Alexi Petrovich, who can't decide whether to play his character like Paul Sorvino in GoodFellas or Jack Nicholson in Batman - the big business baddies juice up the injury factor in order to boost the TV audience. This is not a novel idea. I believe the Christians and the lions had some high quarter-hour ratings too.

In a country where American Gladiators is passé, Fear Factor is 8 P.M. television viewing, and Ultimate Fighting is popular in many parts, who really cares about seeing a fake, barely extreme sport on the big screen? McTiernan and his designers have tried to make the game ultra-chic (oh, the costumes!), but the action is drab, and the acting behind it is worse. Klein, charming in comedies like American Pie and dead-on in Election, delivers one of the saddest action hero performances ever witnessed, layering every line with a stilted affect that just screams "Oh my God... I'm starring in a freaking action movie!"

The script does nothing to help Klein and mates, which include a stale LL Cool J (he's been better, as in last year's Kingdom Come) and a useless Rebecca Romijn-Stamos. Sure, it is poorly plotted, chugging clunkily between story points like a third grader's book report - but the dialogue is some of the worst ever heard in a major motion picture. It keeps to the absolute basics of conversation, with hearty lines like "Hey, thanks for saving my ass" and the oh-so-typical after-sex "You think we could do this in a bed sometime?" Blame screenwriters Larry Ferguson (Alien 3, Beverly Hills Cop II) and John Pogue (The Skulls). Seriously, give them a call.

McTiernan (Die Hard, The Hunt for Red October, the aforementioned Thomas Crown Affair) has no business helming such sub-par content after proving himself one of today's best action directors. Rollerball is easily his worst film, but it's tough to tell how much of the blame can be placed on the director. There are talks of rewrites, re-shoots, and re-edits, and goodness knows where or when this whole film went south, taking a pretty neat idea with it.

Save for a risky infrared nighttime sequence and some intriguing costuming, Rollerball is an utter and complete dud. It is a pristine version of a Hollywood money idea gone wrong, and may be one of the worst remakes ever attempted. And this comes from someone who saw Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes.

If you can't get enough of that infrared sequence, you'll want to replay it again and again on DVD, and you'll probably be drawn to the commentary from Klein, Cool J, and Romijn-Stamos. In all seriousness, the commentary is far better than the movie itself -- with Ms. Stamos insisting she "wants to talk dirty" in the first minute -- and proceeding to bust out a few choice words. LL Cool J's "You gotta love this part! It's like a dream, baby! Whatever!" is equally curious but less perverse. Various other extras ensure that yes, a really crappy movie gets a bunch of nonsensical making-of shorts to go along with it.

This little piggy tried to make a movie.


Rollerball (2002) Rating

" Unbearable "

Rating: PG-13, 2002


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