Set in the near future (possibly the early 2000s lol), our film begins with Jonathan (Chris Klein) accepting a dangerous dare which leads to him being hunted by police within the city. While on the run from the cops, Jonathan bumps into an old friend who just happens to be in the right place at the right time. His friend Marcus (Played by LL Cool J) suggests now is the time to do something better in life and suggests Jonathan joins him by his side on the “Rollerball “team. Naturally with the police trying to hunt Jonathan down, he decides to escape the city and run away from the police by accepting his friend’s offer, becoming a professional player in “Rollerball”. While participating in the world’s most-watched and dangerous game, Jonathan suspects foul play from the hierarchy above. He believes that someone is setting up players in his team to get injured, or, worse, die, which would result in boosting both television ratings and larger bets from people among the crowd.
One of my biggest surprises while watching the start of this film was that there was no character setup (seriously none). From the get-go, all the introduction (Jonathan accepting a bet and suddenly bumping into his old friend at just the right time) is so far fetched, and along with that, there is zero reason to care for any leading character because of the lack of setup. After the introduction, the film continues to ignore any element of character development and jumps straight into a game of Rollerball with our leading cast.
Let’s talk about Rollerball as a game. There are two teams in which the players are all on rollerblades. A metal ball drops and the teams are required to collect the ball, go around a specific path and then dunk the ball into a goal. The arena for Rollerball is also filled with Rock N’ Roll music and an audience making large bets. It’s boring. While the film can explain the workings and rules of Rollerball, when it’s game time in the movie, as a viewer, it is genuinely impossible to follow. When a game of Rollerball is in motion, the filming style is full of close-ups. The Rollerball sequences in the film also go for a longer duration. When the viewer can’t follow what’s going on, it’s a painful experience to watch lengthy sequences and uninteresting. Not to mention the spoon-feeding of information by the commentators that’s also overused here.
As a plot, it’s incredibly thin, but it also takes a long time to get going. It takes at least 30 mins until any type of developed plot surfaces. The outcomes are predictable, and the plot speaks down to its audience as if we will never guess who the bad guy is. Villains are also childish and silly.
To give the film some credit, I liked the way Rollerball looks. The arena itself and some of the costume design work is probably the only central element I find enjoyable within this remake. Nudity in certain scenes is unnecessary, and one location, in particular, chooses to use a “Night Vision effect” which doesn’t hold up on the Blu-ray.
Supporting actors such as Jean Reno & LL Cool J is incredibly way over the top and give a confident yet dissatisfying performance. Actress Rebecca Romijn is flat and serves no real purpose to the film other than to give our leading man a love interest and a dream to fight on.
Overall, I’m shocked. Quite possibly one of the worst remakes I have ever seen in film history. With uninteresting characters and a thin (yet predictable) plot, Rollerball’s excitement fizzles rather quickly. The game itself is hard to follow due to excessive close-ups. And to think, this film was directed by John McTiernan. He’s the man and legend who gave us the most fantastic Christmas film ever made: Die Hard (1988). In the end, we’re all human and make mistakes in life. If you decide to watch this film you just made one of them.
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Review Written by Peter Walkden