About halfway through viewing the remake of the 1975 sci-fi/sports classic Rollerball, I had to make a trip to the bathroom. In the sanctuary of the stall, I found a moment of peace from the retched display courtesy of director John McTiernan. As I took care of business, my mind raced to complete an enormous list of the problems with this 2002 “re-imagining” of writer/director Norman Jewison’s original. I brought back from the restroom some toilet paper with which to take notes. It now seems quite a fitting place to put thoughts to paper on what will surely end up as one of this year’s worst films. Here’s my fleshed out and embellished list, straight from the two-ply roll:
Chris Klein cannot act. ^ The words “Chris Klein” and “intense” will never be used in the same sentence. (Except the previous sentence to make a point.) Here’s how bad he is – Freddie Prinze, Jr. could act circles around this guy. Sure, Klein is actually likable as a doofus in films like “American Pie,” but ask him to display any complex emotion, and he’s lost. James Caan’s original portrayal of Jonathan E. was that of a hardened warrior frustrated at the prospect of being a pawn of the corporate state. Klein is an extreme sports nut right out of a Mountain Dew commercial just looking to cash in. They say that great actors can convey a thousand lines of dialog with a look. With Klein staring back, you’ll only get a blank stare.
Action tells a story. ^ The worst part about this is that McTiernan knows it. Great action directors tell story with action. Shot A + shot B + shot C = story told with action. There are great examples in the “Indiana Jones” films or even McTiernan’s now classic “Die Hard.” The way the action is shown here, it’s an incoherent mess. A collection of random shots, sometimes repeated in slow motion for needless emphasis, that amount to a number of disjointed and muddled action scenes. ^ In the original, we understood how the game worked on a circular track. In the remake, there’s a track that crosses at points, but because we’re never shown an entire “play” in this game, we never understand the inner workings, so it’s like watching a sports highlight film for a sport we’ve never seen before.
What’s the score? ^ This really bothered me. At no point during the film are we ever shown a score for a game. (And it didn’t happen while I was in the bathroom because I asked.) There are three games played in the movie, and not once are we let in on the score of the game, not through the incredibly annoying announcer or through graphics. So, because we don’t have a score, one has to wonder what they’re playing for. Is the score tied? Are they down by one? Are they ahead? It must not matter since this information is never conveyed. So if the score doesn’t matter, the characters have nothing invested in the outcome of the game and the audience is not liable to care.
There is no subtext. ^ The key element that made the original “Rollerball” rise above its B-movie action and story was the sub-text. The “re-imagined” “Rollerball” has no subtext – everything is made plainly obvious and easily explained. It is simply tiresome to have a film do all of its thinking for you without allowing you the pleasure of trying to figure out the subtleties of a more complex plot. The screenwriters definitely dropped the ball in this area, but that position on a film is so political itself that who the hell knows who screwed it up.
The obvious theme is ludicrous and hypocritical. ^ Violence in sports on television is bad, so we’re going to show you a lot of violence in a movie for us to make this point. Bad idea.
Why remake this? ^ If you’re going to remake a movie, there should be some kind of compelling reason to remake it. A new take on the story, improved special effects based on today’s technology to take the concept further, something.
Ultimately, I don’t recommend that you try to write notes about a film on toilet paper in the dark, and I certainly can’t recommend a trip to see “Rollerball.”