Directed by John McTiernan
Review by Evelyn Gildrie-Voyles <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Well it happened. John McTiernan's remake of the 1975 dystopic roller-skating film has finally come to theaters, and by the time you are reading this it has probably gone. Which is good, because I'm going to spoil it -- not that I didn't enjoy this movie in that secret, shameful way that I enjoy a lot of trashy pulp (Starship Troopers, Battlefield Earth, etc.). I did have a good time watching most of it; but I just have a deep need to spill its secrets (which really aren't that secretive but I'm sure someone will get mad at me for telling). So if you want to retain even an ounce of surprise, don't read the last paragraph.
William Harrison's 1975 screenplay was adapted by Larry Lerguson and John Poque. The new Rollerball does not take place in a future society where the game has replaced war. Instead it takes place in 2005 where Rollerball is a budding capitalist's dream: a loud, obnoxious, dangerous sport where the promise of injury and even death means high ratings -- sort of an XFL that works. The game takes place in various fictionalized eastern-bloc countries and is led by a evil rogue Russian named Petrovich (Jean Reno, who is actually French [but really Andalusian-Moroccan --Ed.]). Marcus Ridley (LL Cool J) is the greedy, shallow team captain who urges his teammates Jonathan Cross (Chris Klein) and Aurora (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) to just think about the money and ignore the escalating chaos. Of course, this nightmare of exploitation must be stopped and the repressed eastern-bloc people rescued by a spunky savior. Here's a hint to who is the hero of this film: just look at the three main characters' initials.
The film is enjoyable -- the soundtrack is loud and adrenaline-pumping and the game sequences are almost as exciting, although most of the rush is caused by camera effects and not action. The film needs to be rated R; it needs to be tougher, meaner and a whole lot sexier. Romijn-Stamos walks around topless a lot, but you only see her from the back, and that gets to be a little ridiculous. Movies like this aren't meant for mass audiences; they are meant to be loud, dumb, brutal, and full of T&A. Then they are meant to be edited for TV and shown on "USA Up All Night" and TNT. Rollerball (2002) is pre-edited for television. It suffers because of it.
It also suffers slightly from weird casting. Chris Klein is a serviceable pretty boy actor. He's just not cool. There is nothing McTiernan or the film crew can do that can make him cool. He looks like a mischievous boy, not the daredevil messiah of the near future.
The acting is standard B-movie fare except for two wonderful performances that make the film worth watching on cable (both premium and basic), and possibly worth renting if you're really into roller-death/evil-capitalism movies. Jean Reno is glorious, lapping up his ridiculous lines with evil glee and menace. My favorite performance, however, was given by longtime wrestling announcer Paul Heyman as the American sports announcer who covers the games. Heyman is hysterical. He really knows how to deliver over-the-top color commentary for incomprehensible and sensational "sporting" events. He was worth half of the $7 I paid to see Rollerball.
I also enjoyed the film style: lots of quick, fast cuts and bright lights. Sure, you can't really tell what's going on, but trust me, it's not that important. I could have done without the extended night vision sequence near the end of the movie. It was nifty at first but went on for far too long.
Speaking of the night vision sequence. HEAR COMES THE SPOILER. HERE IT IS: BIG FAT SPOILER. DO NOT READ IF YOU CARE ABOUT THE TERRIBLY PREDICTABLE BUT STILL UPSETTING PLOT POINT IN THE LAST HALF OF THE FILM.
Rollerball breaks what I thought was a unwritten rule in recent horror/action films. They killed LL Cool J. I thought that was impossible. He took an ax to head in Halloween: H2O and lived. He got attacked by mutant intelligent sharks in Deep Blue Sea and lived, but McTiernan blows him up with a missile and he dies. The worse thing is that his character's death doesn't even save the world; it only motivates Chris Klein's character to save the world. It was clear from the beginning that either Marcus Ridley or Jonathon Cross would have to die and the other would become the savior, I just couldn't believe any director would kill LL. He's too adorable to die. I should have known better. Even in 2002, major-market action movies just can't have a black man save the world and get the girl while the white guy dies.
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