“Rollerball” is such a brain dead, jukebox of a movie, it should’ve been called “Tron for Dummies.”
The original 1975 “Rollerball” was a thrilling action film that chillingly described a bleak future where sport and death were one and the same. The film also commented on the tense relationships between athletes and management, in a way that predated the explosion of multi-million dollar player’s salaries and the almighty player’s unions. The film also offered a weird vision of utopia, and dammit, the “Rollerball” game itself was a lot of fun. We actually believed it could be a TV sport.
So why is the new “Rollerball” so unpleasant to look at? Forget about the dialogue or the performances, I’m just talking about the way the movie looks. This is a torturous movie to sit through, like nails on a chalkboard. The way scenes in the film are shot, it’s impossible to understand the “Rollerball” game itself, which seems to have no beginning, middle or end. The explanations are so murky we wonder why the characters don’t just line up and try to kill each other, which is obviously the only destination that the film-maker’s are headed for. It’s a bad sign when the announcer (former WWF color commentator Paul Heyman) tells us that “The tension in the arena is unbelievable” and we want to call him a liar, and why not? It’s a lousy looking product; the colors are boring and the film stock looks washed out. This is more popular in the future than the NFL?
Since the “Rollerball” game itself is non-existent, we’re left with the plot, which is nothing more than a rip off of “The Running Man.” That wasn’t a very good film either but at least it was made in the 1980’s before we all became experts on the inner workings of cable TV and syndication.
Okay, so what kind of modern cable TV does “Rollerball” think we’re interested in anyway? I doubt that anyone could understand how the “Rollerball” game in this film is supposed to work on the basis of the explanations given. Why would people watch this and not wrestling, since in that “sport,” people have been killed and the wrestlers don’t have to wear helmets? Why do the “Rollerball” players wear helmets anyway since we have a tough enough time recognizing the characters? The movie never explains why the evil owner(Jean Reno) isn’t in the wrestling business.
Are we supposed to be surprised when the evil magnate (Jean Reno) wants to exploit the players and increase ratings by having them play increasingly more dangerous games? How about when one of the players dies under “suspicious circumstances?” Then there’s the femme fatale (Rebecca Romjin-Stamos), who of course, is under the thumb of the bad guy, but really wants someone like Klein’s character. And is it any surprise that the villain’s biggest weakness is his personality, and that the only way to deal with it is to destroy him?
James Caan did a great job in the original film as a weathered athlete, past his prime, about to be made obsolete. Did the makers of this new “Rollerball” ever watch that film? What’s the point of casting a young actor like Chris Klein in the lead role since the whole purpose of the Caan character was that he was old and tired and expendable. Remember John Houseman’s evil owner, or when Caan went to visit a brain dead teammate? Klein’s so soft and young; he looks so untested as a “Rollerball” warrior. I mean, if a kid could dominate the “Rollerball” game, what does that say about the game or Caan’s interesting and subversive character? Has the game gotten easier? Since there’s no game to latch onto, are we just left with the title from the original film?
“Rollerball” is rare in that it not only feels like a bad movie but bad TV as well. Don’t these guys know that “American Gladiators” is dead?