There are certain elements to a movie the average film viewer takes for granted. Plot, acting, continuity, editing and lighting the building blocks for a motion picture often go unnoticed. In one of the most bewildering moves in recent Hollywood memory, director John McTiernan attempts, and fails miserably, at remaking the 1975 Norman Jewison cult film “Rollerball” without following the fundamental ground rules of filmmaking.
“Rollerball” is a disaster movie, but not in the ways that “Volcano” and “Earthquake” are disaster movies. Bad acting, an incoherent narrative and plot holes run amok in this so-called action movie. Conventional logic is thrown aside from the onset, and by the end of the 98 minutes the viewer has gone through an experience that incorporates the pains of child birth and circumcision (as an adult) wrapped into one agonizing package.
The story begins on the hilly streets of San Francisco as protagonist Jonathon Cross (Chris Klein, “American Pie”) street sleds through traffic and police cars in a “Fast and the Furious” meets “Bullitt” action sequence. The NHL hopeful returns home to find an armada of police officers surrounding his apartment, apparently street sledding in San Francisco is the equivalent of first degree murder. His best friend, Marcus Ridley (LL Cool J, “Deep Blue Sea”), invites him to Central Asia to participate in the hottest new sport in the world, rollerball.
Four months later, Jonathon is the Wilt Chamberlain of rollerball, as hundreds of foreign fans chant his name as he gleefully skates around the rink. In the brief time he has become romantically involved with Aurora (Rebecca Romijn Stamos, “X-Men”), one of his teammates. Alexi Petrovich (Jean Reno, “The Professional”) controls all aspects of the thriving sport, with his eyes on a North American cable deal. Petrovich does everything in his power to ensure high ratings by provoking fights and violence. By the end of the game the ratings quadruple, at least according to the global ratings indicator.
The game itself is never fully explained to the viewer. Psuedo-athletes, decked out in absurd costumes and not-so-convincing accents, run circles around a multi-colored track, all pursuing the evasive rollerball. Throwing the ball into the satellite shaped target results in a slew of fireworks and a point on the scoreboard. How invigorating.
Chris Klein may very well be the first unsuccessful clone of Keanu Reeves. His first feature film, “Election,” showcased the young “actor” as a dim-witted high school jock. After “American Pie” and “Here on Earth,” it became apparent Klein was never actually acting, he is simply an idiot.
Originally slated for a summer 2001 release with an R rating, “Rollerball” went through massive re-cuts and re-shoots to obtain a more box office friendly PG-13 label. Uncle Jessie”s better half, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, had her nude scenes removed and digitally altered with shadows to cover up adult oriented body parts. Romijn-Stamos fumbles with her role, concentrating more on her scantily clad (and often naked) body rather than remembering her accent.
“Rollerball” is the kind of movie that warrants punishment placed on all who were involved in the making of the film. Maybe blame can be placed on MGM, which took control away from director John McTiernan. In the late “80”s, John McTiernan was the premier action director with “Predator” and “Die Hard,” but with the release of “Rollerball” he has solidified himself as the worst director in the industry.