I don’t think I’m saying anything too groundbreaking here (hey, when do I ever?), but one of the primary issues with the majority of modern day remakes is that the glossy, updated sheen that’s lot of these new attempts are filmed with means that they frequently misses the point the original was shooting for.
Take Rollerball for example, the 1975 sci-fi sports movie that saw an weary James Caan butting heads with a corrupt government the only way he knows how, by inspiring fans while he busts heads as the star of a brutal sport that’s swept the nation. That movie ended with a bloodied, haunted Caan doing a triumphant victory lap after defying his handlers and obliterating the opposing team to the echoing strains of Bach’s Toccata; fast forward to 2002 and the predictably slick re-do has pretty boy Chris Klein finding out that taking responsibility in a corrupt world is, like, really fuckin’ hard, dude.
After being convinced to leave the States by his buddy, Marcus Ridley, thrill-seeking NFL hopeful Jonathan Cross finds that there’s plenty a buck to be made by playing Rollerball, a brutal underground team sport based in Kazakhstan than in involves steel balls, rollerskates, motorcycles and a whole heap of blunt force trauma. However, because Cross gets paid a ton to be the weirdly unmarked face of this vicious pastime, he doesn’t really feel the need to ask many probing questions as he whizzes around in ludicrously expensive cars.
However, the longer he sticks around, it becomes impossible even for this a self-centered chunk-head to ignore the injustice going on in the sport and the rampant poverty he witnesses on the streets of whatever political ravaged country he’s competing in this week.
The main reason for the corrupt nature of the game is due to the ratings hungry promoter of Rollerball, Alexi Petrovich, a man so corrupt he’ll happily set up low level players to get maimed in order to boost those all important, bloodthirsty, ratings (not to mention all the proceeds from all the gambling that goes on). After Petrovich pushes his luck too far and Cross gets his eyes opened by fellow teammate (and secret bed mate) Aurora, both he and Ridley realise it’s high-time they’d better skedaddle back to the States before another ratings boosting “accident” happens to them.
However, after their planned, great escape, goes amiss, Cross finds himself playing one last game of Rollerball that’s been rigged so that he won’t make it to the final buzzer.
Can he make it through and finally instigate some long overdue (if admittedly hypocritical) justice to a world so corrupt, human lives are mere bargaining chips.
How exactly a director of the calibre of John McTiernen could turn in something so dull and tone deaf is absolutely galling; I mean even world class directors can pull out the odd dud or have their relevancy dulled as audience tastes change, but for the director of Predator and Die Hard (two movies so perfect, they created their own sub-genres virtually overnight) to screw the pooch so aggressively is shocking to say the least. The main problem (of many) is that the movie is weirdly racist about various, more troubled, areas of the world by insisting that every third world shithole is as cartoonishly dishonest and corrupt as to make the Mos Eisley spaceport from Star Wars look like fucking Legoland. Taking a similar, everywhere-except-America-is-lethal stance as the Taken franchise, while lazy and fairly offensive, is understandable when dealing with cheap, unimaginative screenwriting; however, when you realise that the whole point behind the original Rollerball was to saterize American corruption through the prism of sci-fi just makes matters worse – especially when this 2002 version isn’t even set in the future.
However, even if you can stomach this slice of our-shit-doesn’t-stink filmmaking, it can’t even justify itself with any good characters or action. Chris Kline was a fairly colourless non-entity in comedies like as American Pie and Say It Isn’t So, so why the hell anyone thought he could pull off an action role is anyone’s guess, but from the moment we’re introduced to him risking his life, bodyboarding down a busy street to the long overdue moment when he belatedly removes his head out of his own sphincter to see the criminality that’s literally been happening around the entire time, Klein impressively displays barely manages one or two emotions the entire movie. Elsewhere both L.L. Cool J and Jeno Reno wisely take the money and run while Rebecca Romjin wrestles with an atrocious black bob and an even dodgier accent.
However, the true weak here is unthinkably McTiernen who can’t even string together decent action sequences from the muddled Rollerball segments where the rules are so poorly translated, even the commentators in the movie claim they don’t understand all of them. Everytime a character scores a point by hitting the target, you’re constantly reminded how far away the director is from hitting any of his own and he attacks and retools the notorious original movie with all the love, care and nuance as if he was remaking the Hulk Hogan wrestling movie No Holds Barred instead.
Even when he’s not turning in skating violence far inferior to the 2009 comedy Whip It, McTiernen blows standard action sequences too with an entire, lengthy action scene unfathomably shot entirely in murky, green night vision (seriously), possibly to invoke memories of footage of the Gulf War… or something… (you genuinely feel McTirenen has no idea why he’s doing anything that he’s doing in this movie) and the whole movie eventually devolves into such a mess, we’re supposed to believe a cameoing Paul Heyman (as a scumbag commentator) would be horrified about the lengths Rollerball has gone when in real life he founded the notoriously off the chain ECW wrestling promotion – talk about being miscast.
Ugly, stupid and inadvisable on virtually every level, no one even seems to realise that maybe casting famous people to perform in this violent, bestial, bloodsport in the middle of a ridiculously dangerous Kazakhstan just has weird connotations. I could maybe buy Slipknot turning up to gig at one of these things (if Mötorhead can play live at Wrestlemania, anything’s possible), but what the fuck is Pink doing there aside from hopefully thinking about firing her manager?
Sadly, not even this would prove to be rock bottom for McTiernen as he soon exchanged director’s jail for an actual prison due to the scandal he was involved in, but either way he was a long damn way from Nakatomi Plazza, that’s for sure.
Less Rollerball – more Rollerbollocks