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Rollerball (2002)

MGM // PG-13 // February 8, 2002
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Aaron Beierle | posted February 12, 2002 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

Director John McTiernan gained a reputation as one of the best directors of action in the 80's with films like "Predator" and "Die Hard". Things started to go downhill in the late 90's; McTiernan directed an adaptation of Michael Crichton's "the 13th Warrior", which was delayed for months and there were even rumors that Crichton himself supervised reshoots of many scenes. That film was quickly in and out of theaters. As bad as "Warrior" occasionally was, "Rollerball" is far worse. At least "Warrior" made sense.

I have to admit that part of me enjoys films like "Rollerball", where I sit in a theater and watch a project that cost upwards of 100 million dollars and think to myself, "how did this go so wrong?" Of course, this is a "remake" of director Norman Jewison's 1975 picture, given a slicker presentation for today's audiences. Unfortunately, all logic and sense has been thrown out the window. The film stars Chris Klein as Jonathan Cross, a character who we meet while he's doing street-luge down the hills of San Fransisco while narrowly dodging cars and even a truck or two. Why is he doing it? Well, he's a risk-taker. He's saved by his friend Marcus (LL Cool J), who informs him about Rollerball teams playing in what I think is Eastern Europe or somewhere in Asia. The film never really explains this very well.

So, we don't know where we are, but suddenly, we're at one of the Rollerball matches. This would be fine - if they made any sense. McTiernan has seriously failed in the film's main arena: the Rollerball sequences are a lot of images cut together in a way that makes positively no sense. We're given a basic run-down of the rules of the game, which still isn't understandable. Some people on the team run around on rollerblades. Some drive motorcycles. Why do those people get motorcycles? I still don't know. What's the score? The film cuts away to other things and puts little computer graphics on the screen so much that wait - isn't there a game? What little we see of the game is hard to even follow; I don't think we're ever shown the track as a whole, just given close-ups of action here and there. We're told Jonathan is the biggest star in the game. How did that happen? The film is full of these questions: there are riots outside. Why? The ratings go up when something bad happens to one of the players. How do people who weren't watching suddenly know something's happened?

One of the few elements of the movie that is understandable is that Alexi Petrovich (Jean Reno) is the head of the league and he's orchestrated some of the injuries to players in an attempt to boost ratings to get a North American Cable Deal. Anyone can get their own cable show on public access and, given the fact that cable seems to have about 200 channels these days, it shouldn't be that difficult.

The performances are not anything special, either. Klein is completely unconvincing in the role and a wrong choice altogether. "Fast and the Furious" star Vin Diesel would be a right choice, but thankfully, he didn't choose to be involved here. LL Cool J is an instance of a good actor stuck with terrible dialogue. He's shown himself to be quite entertaining, even in films like "Deep Blue Sea", it's just unfortunate that he finds himself with this thinly written character. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos seems as if many of her scenes have been completely deleted from the film.

Speaking of her scenes, "Rollerball" actually used to be an definite R-rated picture, scheduled to come out late last Summer. MGM, reportedly unhappy with the film and the rating, held on to it and McTiernan and company reportedly did additional work. Additional violence and nudity (Romijn-Stamos scenes) were deleted or altered so that the film could get a PG-13. As a result, the film feels like a sizable chunk has just been sloppily cut out. Maybe it's just me and maybe I was just bored, but I believe I spotted a few of these edits.

If all of this wasn't bad enough - and trust me, it is - McTiernan films an entire 15-minute action scene in what looks to be green night-vision. Nevermind that no one in the scene is wearing night-vision goggles. It boggles the mind; why did someone think this would be an interesting stylistic touch? Did the production run out of money, so they needed to use night vision on the camera to see the actors?

Last, but certainly not least, the film's sound seems to be cranked to 11 throughout. Maybe it was just the theater that I saw this picture in, but I've heard rock concerts that seemed subtle and quiet in comparison. I like loud, agressive surround sound a whole lot, but when things in the theater seem as if they're about to be shaken off the walls (I can hardly imagine what it must have been like in the auditorium next door), things may be a bit out-of-hand.

And, out-of-hand is probably the best way to describe the end product of "Rollerball". Something obviously went seriously wrong during production somewhere (at some point besides the point where someone came up with the idea to remake this film at all) and the result is, simply, a failure in every regard.
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