by Chris Parry
John McTiernan has directed some really top notch action in his time. Die Hard, The Hunt For Red October, I could go on, but no matter who prepares your "McTiernan career highlights" list, you're never going to find Rollerball on it. This movie is far too botched in far too many ways for anyone to ever claim that it warrants a spot anywhere close to Die Hard. Somewhere around Speed 2 might be closer to the correct level.See, here's the problem. Rollerball, the original version from 1975, was a fucking great flick. The kind of film you would watch at 11PM on TV at least once a year when you were growing up, and no matter how many times you saw it, it was always just as good as the first time. Why? Because it had everything - violence, sports, chicks, James Caan, societal commentary, not to mention a big fat ending that was so eager to please that it just about reached out of the screen and gave you a handjob on your couch.
"Why remake a great movie as a bad movie?"
Fast forward twenty seven years to now and someone thought it would be a great idea to cast Chris Klein, a man who has all the personality of a tetanus shot, to replace James Caan in a remake of a movie that, even today, has legs.
Then they cast a rapper as his bestest buddy. Then they cast a supermodel as his love interest. Hmm, do you think anyone involved with the casting process of this film actually realized that movies require actors? Ah yes, someone must have clued them in late, as Jean Reno is cast as the evil villain. Only, he seems to be under the impression he's playing Dick Dastardly. You can almost make him out tweaking his moustache at the end of each scene.
So the deal is that it's the future and being as it's the future, we all watch Rollerball for our sporting pleasure. It's a game where players skate around a little figure eight track with tunnels and ramps, with the soul aim of throwing a metal ball into a big hoop. You might know it better as roller-derby with a ball. In the future, this is fun.
In the original film (and sorry to keep harking back, but what's the point in making a bad movie out of a good one?), the Rollerball element was simple. They skated, they got towed by a motorbike sometimes, they beat each other up, they passed sometimes, and they scored. In new, improved Rollerball, the track is so intricate and the rules so bizarre that even the commentator claims to not understand what's going on. We can relate to his predicament, since McTiernan's fetish for Jump Cuts and crossing the axis leaves the viewer totally unaware of who is who, what is what, and whether we're supposed to be cheering or booing. Hey, call me a fuddy duddy, but I happen to like my sports so I can see what the hell is happening, thanks.
So Rollerball is huge and everyone is making money off it and it's rating well, only suddenly it isn't. The giant insta-rating meter begins to show us that people are tuning out by the million because, you know, it's only a dumb rollerskating sport with bikes. So Mr Villain TV owner begins to orchestrate 'accidents', which soon have the ratings meter going through the roof.
Here's a simple question. How does the rating meter show a ten percent drop in the audience every ten seconds? I mean, we know from experience, don't we, that people would rather sit through an hour-long Bowflex commercial than even bother changing the channel with their remote control, so what makes it seem realistic that this wacky ratings meter is going to tell us that millions of people are tuning out just because flying skaters aren't exciting enough at this very minute in time? It's hyper-unrealistic, and speaking of which, let's talk about dialogue.
Holy crap on a stick, if I couldn't write better dialogue while in the midst of a crack binge than the writers here have produced, I'd go out back and shoot myself in the face. Chris Klein, as if anyone familiar with his work needs me to tell them, is the single worst actor on the planet we call Earth today. He's so bad that any scene he doesn't butcher instantly becomes a 'good scene'. He's so bad that LL Cool J looks like he's up for Oscars just standing next to him. In fact, he's so bad that Rebecca Romaine-Lettuce actually looks like a good actress whenever she's within spitting distance of him. But even as bad as Chris Klein is, this script is worse.
The essential problem of this entire production is that it entirely misses the point of the original. The 1975 Rollerball was a great look at how we as a society turn sports into gladatorial competition, and how we get desensitized to violence as a culture. The new version uses the gladatorial competition and violence as the entire goal of the production. Gone is the poignant finale of the original, and in it's place we have a ridiculous end scene involving everyone turning into killers - but it's okay becase they're killing the bad guys.Gimme a freaking break. Just as I feared the end of professional wrestling when the bad guys became the fan favorites, so too it seems to be nearing the end of the 'hero-based narrative' when everything can be made okay by instigating a little revolution and mass murder for an audience. If this is seriously what makes a good guy, bludgeoning people to death with heavy metal ashtray stands, then I think I'll go back to ribald sex comedies. At least those don't hurt anyone.
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originally posted: 09/04/02 01:29:02