Review: Rollerball [2001] - dir. John McTeirnan

It's the year 2005; the new sport of Rollerball is hugely popular in the unstable, ex-Soviet republics of South Asia. Marcus Ridley (LL Cool J) invites NHL-hopeful Jonathan Cross (Chris Klein) to join him playing for the Zhambel Horsemen, in Kazahkstan. The highly paid Marcus and Jonathon are teamed with low-paid locals, who are routinely severely injured in the game, which is an extraordinarily violent extension of roller derby involving motorcycles, a metal ball, and many trappings of World Wrestling Entertainment.

Soon the team's star and the darling of promoter Alexi Petrovich (Jean Reno), Jonathan, is thrilled by the high-octane sport, the hype, the sports cars, and female team mate Aurora (a glowering, scar-faced Rebecca Romijm-Stamos). But gradually Jonathan discovers that the cynical Alexi and his opportunistic assistant Sanjay (Naveen Andrews) will go to any lengths to manipulate the game in order to provide an evermore gory spectacle and improve the game's television ratings. Director John McTiernan's movie is grungy and even more violent than the original 1975 ROLLERBALL. He conveys the visceral nature of the game with sharply edited action sequences and a goosed-up soundtrack, and then he shows the volatile game convulsively spinning out of control and causing social upheaval.
So where do I start... let me get this out of the way.... I was never really a giant fan of the original, I always thought Norman Jewison's vision of a dystopian future was a little humdrum, and the only thing that held it together was the brilliance of James Caan's ability to portray a tired, veteran everyman with a credibility unsurpassed only by Gene Hackman's 'Popeye Doyle' in the original French Connection.

I sat down with a good feeling about this, John McTeirnan at the helm (this is the man who made one of my favourite action films of all time... DIE HARD!), Jean Reno and Naveen Andrews in a film together at last I thought, 'what could really go wrong?'

Well, as it turned out..... oooooh so much! Let's summarise, as I don't have the time or energy to work through this dog with a fine tooth comb...

  • Acting - albeit for the scenery chewing spectacle of Jean Reno foaming at the mouth almost to try and get some gusto into what is primarily one of the weakest casts in a supposed 'A' list movie I have seen in a long time... Chris Klein makes Keanu look like the 21st century Olivier... LL Cool J tries hard. but sadly acting has never been his strong suit... Rebecca Romijn-Stamos as usual looks stunning, but much like Milla Javovich, looking like she has a clue isn't really her speciality... the rest... well non-descript is the kindest term I can use.
  • Script - I am not going to say it was weak, but if it was compared to an old family dog your parents would probably be telling you it was going to live out in the country as they wrapped it in your favourite quilt cover... ham-fisted political overtones, non-existent character back stories, lacking completely in any kind of on-screen relationship between any of the characters. Dire, just dire.
  • Action - Now this is the part that really disappointed me, mindless action films are still worthy of merit even with no script and shaky acting (Starship Troopers anyone?), but when the sole requisite of an action movie is ACTION and it STILL fails to deliver what are we left with... usually an Uwe Boll film, but I digress... I counted at least 5 visual FX studios involved in the film, where did all their hard work go, because it ain't on screen, messy editing, bad juxtaposition, nasty camera work... everything about the actual tournament scenes left me cold... even the final 'retirement' match lacked any real impetus to get anywhere...
Positives, I wish I could say yes, set design was awful, sound was patchy, all-in-all a failure of the highest order, and that is even if you pitch it as a bit of mindless fun, no fun, no fury, no excuses...

Originals 2 Remakes (still) 0


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