Rollerball
review by Gregory Avery, 15 February 2002

The remake of Rollerball arrives like a beat-up old jalopy that has just seen its last stock car rally. It has been stripped down to ninety-eight minutes, sacrificing everything but action (or, rather, movement), and it has the look of something that's been given-up-on during the process and junked. I was wondering if there was any good reason or need to do a remake of the 1975 film, and, after having seen the remake, I'm still wondering.

The 1975 film was a neo-art object made in muted grays and browns and set in a near-future where corporations have taken the place of governments and the masses are kept in check through the violent spectacle of "rollerball", an arena event where international teams face-off against each other in a sport which combines aspects of roller derby, hockey, and football, with some motorbikes thrown in. When a U.S. team player, Jonathan (played by a husky, subdued James Caan), begins to take on heroic proportions in the public mind, the corporate leaders decide to take him down a few pegs---lest "he" become more important than "the game". The film made some posturing towards statements about the individual and society, but don't be fooled:  everyone went to go see it for the violence, which, with its bone-crunching and limb-rending, was pretty extreme for the time.

The new film dumps almost all of the story from the earlier film and sets its action in the present day. One moment, young Jonathan (Chris Klein) is doing some extreme skateboarding down the steepest hills of San Francisco; the next (or, "four months later", the film says), he's the object of wild adulation in Kazakhstan, where he plays on a multi-national rollerball team before screaming masses of fans. (And announcers call him "the next Wayne Gretzky"). The team owner (Jean Reno, mugging and overacting shamelessly) notices that the instantaneous "global rating" readout for the satellite feed goes up after he prearranges for gruesome accidents to befall on his own team players, so he sneakily arranges for more of them. But who's watching this thing? Well, along with Kazakhstan, it's supposed to be really big in Mongolia and the Middle East (!?!?).

When Jonathan and his teammate pal Ridley (LL Cool J) decide to make a break for it (during a long sequence which is, annoyingly, filmed in green "night vision" format), the team owners (or someone) decide that they must be killed, doubtless so that they can't get to the nearest payphone and tip off Greta Van Sustren, who would certainly be very, very concerned over learning that people are racing around on roller skates and motorbikes in arenas in Mongolia while wearing outlandish costumes which look like they were inspired by the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Skeletor in Masters of the Universe.

The action loses credibility almost by the minute. The violence (and there's a lot of it, minutely trimmed to get a "PG-13" rating) is too casual and off-hand to become really riled about. But the film is still pointless, irresponsible, and steeped in decadence, from the women who sashay around in bustiers and waist-high vinyl boots, to the conclusion, where the filmmakers, desperate for anything that'll get a rise out of the audience, have the rollerball players, after viciously attacking each other, climb out of the rink and start attacking everyone. Or, rather (as one character puts it), "the monsters who created them", which would probably include the people who made this movie. The filmmakers don't seem to care whether or not the film makes any sense or has any integrity, although Chris Klein looks capable of projecting a certain amount of fortitude and moral fiber, while Rebecca Romijn-Stamos gives weight to her role as a fellow teamplayer, a tough, dark-eyed beauty who has taken to wearing full-head helmets after receiving a brutal scar on her face. But the rollerball game itself is never entirely explained to the audience, and the action is filmed so that you can't follow what's going on between the players. The film just races 'round and 'round trying to con you, until after a while you just turn it off in your head.

Directed by:
John McTiernan

Starring:
Chris Klein
LL Cool J
Rebecca Romijn-Stamos
Naveen Andrews
Jean Reno.

Written by:
Larry Ferguson
John Pogue

Rated:
PG-13 - Parents 
Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may
be inappropriate for
children under 13.

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