Rollerball (2002) John McTiernan
Production Costs: $70 million
Worldwide Gross: $20 million
Subsequent Earnings: $5 million
Yeah, another McTiernan movie. So we have this cult hit from the 70’s, it figures that Hollywood would eventually remake it. Okay, so let’s do this right. Who will we get to direct? McTiernan? Hm, Predator, Die Hard, Hunt for Red October. That will work, he can do action. Who will be our action star? Chris Klein in the James Caan role? You gotta be kidding me. There’s not much to report on this one. There were no cast squabbles or perfectionist filmmaking or overblown budget. This is just a failure on every conceivable level and people were smart enough to stay away.
Is it any good? No. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, and no. This plain sucks. It’s so strange that with a director with a great record of action movies can be so sloppy. The action is so frantic you don’t know what’s going on, the editing is choppy, and it has one of the worst sequences in any movie. That scene is the night vision scene. Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we had a 15 minute sequence that was in night vision cause, I dunno, it’s hard to shoot at night? All of the stuff that was interesting about the original story was tossed out in favor of more incomprehensible action sequences. Chris Klein is no James Caan, he will never be anywhere near as bada** as James Caan. No way. L.L. Cool J and Rebecca Romijn are completely forgettable in they roles and Jean Reno is just embarrassing himself in this movie. It’s loud, its boring, the plot is now stupid, and the acting is annoying.
It is almost amazing how bad the writing is for this movie. The structure of the movie is actually that of a mystery/thriller where Klein investigates who is killing his players. But if you look at even the trailer you guess right off the bat its Jean Reno. So the first half of the movie of guessing is pointless when you have “It’s Jean Reno, it’s Jean Reno. Jean Reno is the bad guy” on a constant loop in your brain. The story also has little bits of stupidity peppered in. Take for example the plot by Reno to kill off players to spike ratings. What is funny is we cut quickly to a Ratings Meter immediately after a death and the ratings almost double. Its as if people psychically know that someone was murdered on TV and tuned in to see the replay 5 seconds later. Or another stupid thing is when they don’t explain the rules to Rollerball but then in the final act it is some big surprise when Jean Reno suspends all rules and makes it “Anything goes”. Wow, that would really be suspenseful if we knew what that meant. You would think there would be no penalties for players beating the shit out of each other, but in every scene before that players would get in all out brawls and not so much as a yellow card. So when we see players fighting each other in the finale it means absolutely nothing to me. Or how about filming an entire night scene in night vision. Why? I have no f*cking clue. You may think it is some choice due to budgetary restrictions but just chew on this. A: If you really can’t shoot night scenes you could somehow write that it is daytime B: Even though day for night looks bad, it looks a hell of a lot better than blurry NVG but C really pisses me off when you consider they shot several other night scenes with normal cameras and standard lighting. That is like making the score to your film all orchestral except for one scene where for some reason Nickelback comes in and plays their guitars with their asses. Some would argue that’s what they already do but anyway.
Chris Klein as Jonathan is the cherry on this sh*t sundae. Besides his flat acting, his character is so poorly written. I’m sure they wanted to make a character who was all badass and “didn’t play by the rules” or whatnot. But there is a difference between a guy who doesn’t play by the rules, and a complete tool the audience can’t connect with. I’m sure that quip was supposed to be more clever but at this hour of the morning in which I am writing this I am using all the creativity the writers of Rollerball were. Take for instance a frequent issue Marcus (LL Cool J) is always chastising Jonathan about; his refusal to wear an armadillo (a spine protector). But Jonathan is too cool to wear something that could save his life. See, this is what I mean. This is supposed to make Jonathan seem like a real man, but really it makes him look like an idiot. These are the same people for whom we have to put stickers on the vending machines warning them that rocking the machine could result in the machine falling on him. I especially like the plot point that Jonathan is looking for the person that knocked off a player’s helmet (because after that player got his helmet knocked off he got killed by someone hitting him in the head). But another endearing character trait we see of Jonathan is he doesn’t strap on his helmet either. The straps hang loose on his head which means his helmet could be smacked off too.
There is nothing I like about this movie. Aside from the crap writing, the characters are all unmemorable and the action scenes are just lame. McTiernan somehow forgot after DIE HARD how to shoot an effective action scene. Most fail simply because we know nothing about what is going on both with the game of Rollerball and rather confusing construction of the action. A great example is the very first action scene which happens right at the beginning of the movie. We start right off with Jonathan racing some random dude down San Fransisco’s hills in some kind of back board (I forget the technical term for it). At this point we have no idea who Jonathan is, why he is racing, who the other guys are, how dangerous this stunt will be, what any of the characters motivations are, or why the hell I should care who wins or loses. I don’t care how well shot the action scene is, if I know nothing about these people I care even less.
I can’t recommend this to anyone. Even for the low low price of one penny on Amazon (which is how much I paid for it + shipping) I can’t say this is even a ‘so bad its good’ sort of movie. There are dumb things in it and I laughed a few times, but this is not some forgotten camp classic. Skip it.