In the mid 1970s, a cult film called “Rollerball” burst onto the scene and the film was the first real film to tackle the concept of nihilistic sports entertainment and sports corruption.
The film was set in the future and followed the exploits of a man called Jonathan E. (James Caan) who rises to become the immortal star athlete of the sport, “Rollerball”. Jonathan eventually topples his corrupt masters. It was sort of “Gladiator” for a lost generation.
Flash forward to the 2002 version and we now have a central figure known as Jonathan Cross (Chris Klein) who is thrust into a corrupt blood-thirsty sport hidden within deepest and darkest Central Asia. The fall of the Soviet Union and the struggling people seem to have embraced the lethal sport, “Rollerball”, as a release from the pains of reality.
The sport itself is a mixture of “WWF wrestling”, “grunge roller derby” and the “gladiatorial escapades” of Ancient Rome. Jonathan’s companions during his “gladiatorial struggle” are Marcus (LL Cool J) and Aurora (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos). They are just as stuck as Jonathan.
The vicious overlord of the sport is Petrovich (Jean Reno) who wants take his sport global even it means killing the athletes on the track to boost ratings.
The brilliant concept in the original cult film is utterly lost in the remake. The film’s edgy editing and camera angles try to embrace the “Fast & Furious” take of the story. The flash and pathetic story translates into a gouging “cheeseball” of a film. This could be the cheesiest film of the last ten years. Cheesiest is when a film at no point ever apologizes or tries to climb over how bad it is. Most bad films know they are but do have more than one blemish of brilliance.
In the original film my biggest problem was the game itself. I liked the idea of a sports figure overthrowing a corrupt sports executive but the sport itself was so utterly boring. What was the allure of roller derby as a sport anyhow? I never understood the rules or why it was so popular? In the remake we have the same boring game but we have a wrestling element added. The games themselves seem to go on forever.
I would have liked to see the filmmakers remake the “Rollerball” concept but drop the “brain-numbing” sport where it takes place. This film could have been incredible if the sport was say “hockey”. Now that could be an incredible film. Can you imagine the blood, gladiatorial uniforms and corruption spray-painted onto a corrupt hockey-game?
The acting in this film is so cardboard and woody that you could probably watch the grass on your front lawn grow and be more entertained. Klein has always been the naïve, clueless pretty-boy and he doesn’t stray from that here. Cool J is a decent rapper turned actor but he should really shoot his agent for putting him in these stinkers.
Rebecca Romijn-Stamos impressed me with her portrayal of “Mystique” in “X-Men” but her accent in this film is probably as bad as Nicolas Cage’s in “Capt. Corelli”. One thing I couldn’t understand was why she took the role. She is nude for nearly half of her off-court scenes but the filmmakers decided to digitally manipulate the shadows so her body is covered.
Why didn’t they just clothe her and preserve some of this poor girl’s dignity? I hate films when they censor the film making itself. Why film it that way if you are just going to turn around and cover it up later?
The only real fun in this film is the opening sequence which involves Jonathan Cross in a “street-luging” event through the hilly streets of San Francisco. Other than that it goes downhill from there. Beyond that there really is no redeeming feature whatsoever.
(0.5 of 5)
So Says the Soothsayer.
Written: February 18, 2002