Rollerball (2002) / Action-Sci Fi

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, extreme sports action, sensuality, language and some drug references   
Running Time: 98 min.

Cast: Chris Klein, Jean Reno, LL Cool J, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Pink
Director:  John McTiernan
Screenplay: Larry Ferguson, John Pogue (based on the screenplay by William Harrison)

Review published February 12, 2002

Rollerball is a remake of a cult sci-fi 70s flick of the same name, and although that one had its merits, it was far from a great film.  This new incarnation doesn't even bother trying to build upon the original's ideas, instead dumbing down the basic premise of "evil corporations that churn up the violence in sports just for increased audience" by reducing all commentary of it down to a global ratings ticker.  The sport was confusing in the first film, but this new film does not even bother attempting to explain it, with even the commentators covering the sport basically saying "all you need to know is when the metal ball hits large dish it's a score."  Chris Klein (American Pie, 2) is the protagonist just by being naive enough not to know why the sport is popular, and as things become clearer that the sport is corrupt, we are supposed to root for him by default.

The main problem with Rollerball is that it is hypocritical in its stance against violence, when all the while violence is the only asset the producers of this film seem to concentrate on.  This is evidenced by how much screen time is given to acts of violence versus how much is given to character development.  About a half hour into the film I came to the realization that Rollerball might have the world's smallest script due to the meager amount of dialogue from anyone in the film, and of this dialogue, almost none gives us any feeling for any of the characters, who are mostly cast for looks than for acting ability.  Any who root for Chris Klein and LL Cool J (Charlie's Angels, Deep Blue Sea) do so because they are generally likeable personalities rather than us caring for their particular characters.  So what did the filmmakers decide to fill 90+ minutes with?  Why violence, of course. 

In an ironic twist, and perhaps some may think of this as poetic justice, the studio decided to cut out a Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (X-Men) nude scene and some shots of excessive violence and gore.  Why?  To drop the R rating down to PG-13, and thus try to find a larger audience by showing LESS violence. 

Beyond the hypocrisy, the film also suffers from immense logic holes that might insult even the most forgiving of minds, and raises many questions that are never explained.  For instance, although the ratings spike up after each instance of brutality, why does the core audience seem to go down with each progressive game?  Why is the global ratings board considered worthy of being shown as a scoreboard for the paid attendance and even the players to see at all times?   Why does Jean Reno (Wasabi, The Crimson Rivers), as the head of the Rollerball competition, care when two of its players decide to make an escape when he has discovered so many people tune in for the violence than the personalities of its players (which are never revealed)?  Why bother spending countless dollars chasing them down when they are instantly considered expendable?

The questions go on and on, and they seem forever elusive as the movie progresses.  Yet, in all honesty, Rollerball still maintains a passable level of watchability despite its multitudinous flaws.  There is something inherently interesting about the story that one might wonder how good the film might be if they had a real story and real characters to root for.  Well, I guess we should not wonder since it has already been done.  Gladiator...Academy Award winner for Best Picture of 2000.  

Qwipster's rating:

2002 Vince Leo