‘Rollerball’ Review: Full Contact Garbage

Posted in The Screening Room by - November 11, 2015

I knew nothing about Rollerball going into it other than that the acting powerhouse LL Cool J was involved, and Chris Klein, otherwise known as discount Ryan Reynolds, was the lead. After watching the film, I have come to the conclusion that not only is it a failure as a remake, but also just a downright poorly paced mess of a movie. It also landed John McTiernan, the famed action director, in jail for a year, but we will get to that later.

The film tells the story of Jonathan Cross, played with indifference by Chris Klein, as he lands himself a role on the Zhambel Horsemen, a professional rollerball team out of Kazakhstan. Along with Cross, Marcus Ridley, played by acting savant LL Cool J, and Aurora, played by buxom Rebecca Romijn, round out the notables of his team. When one of their teammates is injured under suspicious circumstances, the trio attempt to discover the culprit behind the “accident”. It is revealed to be Alexi Petrovich, Jean Reno hamming it up, the promoter of the team and of Cross. The rest of the film chronicles their fight to rid the sport of corruption, and of Petrovich.

If the plot sounds bland and formulaic, that’s because it is. The original film of the same name features political and social commentary, which is thoroughly lost on this leather and metal fantasy. This film’s message is as subtle as a kick in the nuts, ‘sports are corrupt and the players have the power’, and it’s one that has been done in much better films. It also doesn’t help that, while the plot is formulaic, the way the plot progresses is convoluted and disorganized. At one point Cross and Ridley attempt to “make it to the border” to escape Petrovich’s goons, only for Ridley to sacrifice himself and for Cross to get captured unceremoniously. This scene serves to reinforce the power of Petrovich, but does nothing to show the heroic nature of Cross, who tried to run away rather than fight. 

The characters themselves are not only generically written, but also poorly acted. As mentioned above, Klein is the lead of the film, but has so little charisma in the role that he’s hard to get invested in. I have no issue with Klein, and have seen him in films that I have enjoyed, primarily comedies. He just isn’t believable as a badass hockey player turned rollerball savant. He would be better served as the comedic relief. LL Cool J is slightly more interesting than Klein, but is given so little screen time that its surprising that his character is given front and center placement, beside with Klein and Romijn, on the promotional material. He is the wise-cracking, hip friend that undoubtedly will give his life for Cross. I feel bad for Romijn, primarily because she is given nothing to do other than bare her breasts and deliver her lines with a laughable European accent. Action films haven’t always been the most forward thinking with their female characters, and Rollerball is no different.

I did want to point out, as a fan of wrestling, the two appearances by mainstays of pro wrestling: Shane McMahon and Paul Heyman. Shane McMahon has a one off appearance in a scene, but Heyman is given a role that is familiar for fans of wrestling as the color commentator for the rollerball matches. He infuses his frenetic energy into the role, and is the most entertaining part of the film, aside from Jean Reno’s absurd Russian accent. Why, in the name of Satan himself, you would cast a well-known French actor as a Russian, when the role doesn’t hinge on his ethnicity is a true mystery. He hams it up every chance he gets, and seems to be one of the few actors enjoying himself. 

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned the actual game of rollerball in my review of the film, because they hang a lantern on the fact, almost immediately, that the game is too convoluted for a quick explanation. It involves motorcycles, a big iron ball, and ridiculous looking head gear. Whenever the action is taking place in the ring, it’s hard to follow what is going on, since the film follows the Michael Bay school of directing. The length of each shot averages around two to three seconds, and it is confusing to say the least. It doesn’t help the already problematic nature of the film.

On the note of John McTiernan, he has directed some of the most recognizable action films from the 80s and 90s, including Die Hard and Last Action Hero. Due to squabbling over direction with a producer for Rollerball, McTiernan hired a private investigator to follow said producer. The FBI ended up getting involved with the situation, and McTiernan falsified information to them, resulting in him being imprisoned for a year. The film is the gift that just keeps on giving. 

Rollerball is a bad movie, and an even worse remake. While the original film had an iconic lead in James Caan and some interesting social and politic undertones, this film is just one long MTV music video. It’s loud, dumb, and full of characters so paper thin that if they turned sideways they’d disappear. It is a remake of the original in name only, and is a great example of a truly misguided attempt to remake a classic film.

Final Say: Skip It

This post was written by

Chris Stachiw is the Editor-in-Chief and co-host of the Kulturecast. He’s a native Californian with a penchant for sarcasm and a taste for the cinematic bizarre. You’ll often find him wandering the wasteland of Nebraska searching for the meaning of life and possibly another rare Pokemon.

Comments are closed.