½*/**** Image A Sound A Extras B-
starring Chris Klein, Jean Reno, LL Cool J, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos
screenplay by Larry Ferguson and John Pogue
directed by John McTiernan
by Walter Chaw When John McTiernan's Rollerball was scheduled for the summer 2001 movie season, it boasted of a full-frontal Rebecca Romijn-Stamos and some graphic violence. What it didn't have was the confidence of MGM, who pushed the release of the film into the doldrums of the new year and presided over the cutting of the only two possible reasons (the nudity and the gore) that anyone would have for seeing the film in the first place. Doubtless the rationale was to garner a PG-13 rating and the expanded pre-teen first weekend box-office it confers; they'd better hope for a whopper opening, because no one is seeing this turkey twice. It strikes me as telling that a major studio would have so little confidence in a film that it is deemed somehow too prurient and also not "good" enough for a summer audience. Rollerball proves the truism that a studio often doesn't know if it has a winner--but almost always knows when it has a stinker. Saying that Rollerball is better than the simultaneously released Collateral Damage is likely the only praise it will garner this weekend.
It's one thing to remake a very mediocre (read: "pretty bad") film, it's another to remake a mediocre film as a more irritating version minus any of the selling points that made the original worthy of reconsideration in the first place. (Examples swimming to mind include Meet Joe Black, Vanilla Sky, and the other Norman Jewison-to-McTiernan The Thomas Crown Affair.) Norman Jewison's 1975 Rollerball depicts a futuristic dystopia (the one populated by people with bad haircuts in bell-bottomed pantsuits; see also: Logan's Run, A Clockwork Orange, and Soylent Green) controlled by Philip Dick-ian corporate nation-states that placate the masses with a gladiatorial entertainment. McTiernan's Rollerball depicts our current dystopia but sets itself in various Soviet splinter states and Mongolia so as to provide raucous environments in which burly Russian miners might be used in an undeveloped proletariat uprising subplot.
Jonathan Cross (Chris Klein) is a typical action movie hero archetype: good-looking, stupid, and devil-may-care until he finds a cause he can finally "get serious" about. Failing a shot at NHL stardom and spending his time engaging in street luge (but of course), he's recruited by his good buddy Ridley (LL Cool J) who, besides making a lot of cash playing the ultra-violent sport of rollerball overseas, is black, funny, and wise. He will therefore die, his inevitable death inspiring the white goofball hero to "get serious." Four months pass and Jonathan becomes the biggest name in rollerball, skating into the hearts of the great foreign unwashed while snarling corporate maven Alexi (Jean Reno) stages "accidents" to boost the global ratings of his creation. Romijn-Stamos is Aurora, the heavily accented love interest.
Where the original sought to skewer the American appetite for blood sports (Jewison is Canadian, Canada's national pastime being hockey, which is one of the games plundered for the fictional rollerball), the remake takes our bloodlust for granted and seeks instead to skewer corporations for wishing to capitalize on it. Attacking corporations for being greedy is like attacking me for being Chinese--you can, but who are you hurting and to what end? Needless to say, the ironies of the existence of a Rollerball 2002 (a film that jettisons plot in favour of incomprehensibly choreographed and now sheepish carnage sequences) fly thick and fast. Structurally, the film (like its predecessor, oddly enough) is just an excuse to string together a lot of ridiculous action with stunningly dull exposition. To that end, rollerball is what it might look like if Vince McMahon were to direct "Starlight Express" (with all the stage blood, testosterone, and suck such a union implies). Though the rules are established complete with visual aids, Rollerball immediately undermines them. It's not that I didn't understand the rules of the game, it's that McTiernan et al don't appear to understand (or care to understand) them, and that's cause for concern.
That same lack of care manifests itself in nearly every aspect of the production. (Take note of the mercurial nature of Klein's facial cuts during the climactic battle.) The matches are hard to follow and often separate from the narrative (a sad statement considering McTiernan's Die Hard and Predator are two of the best and most influential American action films of the last thirty years), and the character development is a joke. The acting is predictably horrible and the chunks removed from the film to secure its PG-13 are like giant white elephants tromping through the slipshod pace. The most remarkable thing about this re-imagining is that despite it being ear-splittingly loud and packed to the gills with bad action, it manages to be excessively boring. In Rollerball's defence, however, it's better than Collateral Damage. Originally published: February 8, 2002.
by Bill Chambers Even in the R-rated form that it is on DVD (but wasn't in theatres), Rollerball is the pits. Director John McTiernan has understandably disowned the thing: although he's all over the discs for his Die Hard pictures and The Thomas Crown Affair, even the reconstruction of his original vision for Rollerball wasn't enough to get him back for commentary or an interview segment. MGM's Special Edition of Rollerball 2002 contains clean--superior, even--2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and pan-and-scan transfers on the flipsides of a DVD-14, both of which feature a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix that immerses the viewer in arena ambience, though the most thunderous usage of the LFE channel occurs outside of the rink. Too bad the best-sounding moment--a night chase involving a plane, a motorcycle, and a stretch of open road--is also the worst-looking, having been shot for aesthetic purposes only on green night-vision stock. (It suggests the footage of the Gulf War you saw on TV in the early nineties.)
J.M. Kenny's repetitive "Future Sport: The Stunts of Rollerball" (21 mins.) nonetheless dispels the assumption that a lot of the stunts were manufactured in-computer and incorporates some astonishing outtake footage of the X-Gamer extras horsing around between camera set-ups. Also on board: the multi-gallery "Rollerball Yearbook" (which, in the case of the section on uniforms, includes "Highlight Reels" for the four main Rollerball teams); the video for Rob Zombie's A Clockwork Orange-inspired "Never Gonna Stop" (indeed, force-feeding Rollerball to delinquents would make for a suitable fascist torture); teaser and standard theatrical trailers for the new Rollerball, plus commercials for "Stargate SG-1" and "Jeremiah"; a page of DVD credits; and a screen-specific film-length commentary track with "Horsemen" Rebecca Romijn-Stamos and Chris Klein (recorded together) and LL Cool J (edited in).
LL Cool J embarrasses his profession, his family--maybe the human race--with his contribution to the yak-track (shouting out the film's title is about the most informative thing he says--provided you're blind), but Klein and Romijn-Stamos--she so down-to-earth, funny, and charming on top of beautiful you sit there wondering if she's from outer space--are palatable. As for Rollerball's R-rated bits of business (the PG-13 version has been altogether abandoned as far as DVD is concerned), if you're a fan of the film you might appreciate that it's more honestly violent now; if you're planning to get it strictly for Romijn-Stamos's reinstated nude scene, don't bother: she's in silhouette the whole time. Originally published: June 16, 2002.