Rollerball (2002) Movie Review

Rollerball stars Chris Klein as Jonathan Cross, an extreme sportsman who achieves superstar status in Rollerball, a futuristic game where people skate and motorbike around a small arena throwing steel balls at a target to score points. (Huh?) Cross and his fellow Rollerballers, Aurora (Rebecca Romjin-Stamos) and Ridley (L.L. Cool J.), are having the time of their life and earning cash hand-over-fist. That is until one of their teammate is killed in the arena and the team suspect foul play. It turns out Petrovich (Jean Reno), the game’s creator and current programmer, is deliberately “spilling blood” for the sake of ratings. As the games become rougher and more blood is spilled, how long can Cross and his fellow Rollerballers survive…?

First of all, let me just say that John McTiernan’s Rollerball remake is the kind of movie that gives Hollywood a bad name. It’s a high-concept film that, beyond the high-concept in question, has little else to offer. The execution by the usually reliable McTiernan (the Die Hard trilogy and a spate of other excellent action films) is, as the saying goes, piss-poor. The “game” itself is a series of quick cuts and physical movement that translates into very little. Even after a quick introduction to the game early on, complete with graphics and illustrations, I was still at a lost as to how the game is actually played.

Rollerball is a remake of the 1975 original starring James Caan, a film that I have never seen and can only imagine was much better than this version, hence the “need” to do “update” it. The only imaginable target audience for Rollerball must have been the A.D.D-laden MTV generation, since I can’t possibly imagine anyone else coming out of Rollerball with any sense that the film was competently put together.

Besides the indistinguishable playing of the games, which makes up about half of the movie’s 90-minute running length, there is an attempt by writers Larry Ferguson and John Pogue to include something about a rebellion brewing in the fictional Russian country that the Rollerball game takes place in. Whatever was behind the rebellion, or what became of it, I couldn’t tell you. In lieu of informative exposition, the rebellion and the reasons behind it are kept in the background and are only revealed in small, incomprehensible spurts. People appear sleeping on floors or looking homeless — all meaning what? I couldn’t tell you, and I doubt if the filmmakers knew.

There is a lengthy chase sequence halfway through the movie that takes place at night that must be noted because it’s just so strange. In that sequence director McTiernan insists on shooting with what appears to be green fluorescent light (aka nightvision, well, vision) from beginning to end. Why in the world McTiernan decided to shoot the sequence in this manner is beyond me. Then again, much of Rollerball’s purpose is beyond me.

The acting is not much better. Actor Chris Klein (Cross) proves ready to join the slew of Hollywood “hunks” who, besides looking handsome, shows little to no charisma. Klein’s dialogue delivery is atrocious and lacks any semblance of energy. (Wake up, Chris!) The movie’s lead villain, Jean Reno, is just as ineffective. The thing is, Reno’s Petrovich is so insanely evil that it’s hard to take him seriously, or even consider this an actual “acting” job by the usually reliable Reno. Naveen Andrews (Sanjay) is Petrovich’s right-hand man, and does a better job as a man who might actually be the real brains behind Petrovich’s operations. A reasonable enough guess since Petrovich, as played by Reno, seems to have very little intelligence to begin with.

The supporting cast is actually the only thing that keeps Rollerball from becoming a total sham of a film production. Rebecca Romjin-Stamos (XMen) is sexy as the mysterious Aurora. The movie’s best moments are when McTiernan and cinematographer Steve Mason gets it through their heads that the ex-supermodel is one hell of a sexy woman and focuses on her lithe body and stunning face. For those interested (and who wouldn’t be?) the ex-supermodel appears in various stages of undress and semi-dress. (Gotta love those uniforms.) Rapper L.L. Cool J. is once again “cool” as Ridley. Of course it’s not hard to be cool when you’re acting across the stoic Chris Klein for most of your scenes.

Rollerball is a mess of a film, and director McTiernan mistakes loud, ruckus music for mood. There is one effective scene near the beginning when one of Cross’ teammate is killed and Cross rallies his remaining teammates to take revenge. Unfortunately for McTiernan, the rest of the film is not worth mentioning.

As Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes remake showed, and as was proven once again with this remake of Rollerball, Hollywood is one place where the phrase “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” has cease to hold any meaning.

John McTiernan (director) / Larry Ferguson, John Pogue (screenplay)
CAST: Chris Klein …. Jonathan Cross
Jean Reno …. Petrovich
LL Cool J …. Marcus Ridley
Rebecca Romijn Stamos …. Aurora
Naveen Andrews …. Sanjay

Buy Rollerball on DVD