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A Rolling Ball Gathers no Plaudits

01/08/2002. Contributed by Frank Ochieng

Buy Rollerball in the USA - or Buy Rollerball in the UK

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Who's in the mood to play games with 'Rollerball', when this movie is a mindless, insipid and excitable sports fantasy that rolls over the cinematic senses, leaving you feeling incomplete? Not us, that's for sure. Not Frank Ochieng either ... read his review here!

Apparently director John McTiernan was in the mood to take on updating a mediocre extreme sports flick from yesteryear.

It's a trend, sad to say, that seems to be all the rage by some filmmakers who think originality is an antiquated notion. McTiernan ("Die Hard") tries to capitalize on instilling some millennium-style madness to Norman Jewison's 1975 original "Rollerball" flick.

To be honest, Jewison's look at the release of aggression through the brutal competition of a frivolous sporting event wasn't exactly an eye-opener when it was released to movie audiences some 27 years ago. If anything, Jewison's roller derby actioner was a futuristic, irreverent social commentary on the shady corporate world that slightly missed the mark.

But McTiernan's boisterous update of "Rollerball" is nothing more than a showy, incoherent spectacle that dabbles in its pointlessness. Tediously executed and silly in concept, "Rollerball" (2002) has the flashy and dimwitted relevance of a wrestling mogul Vince McMahon-produced XFL game that got thrown out with the bathwater last year.

Although McTiernan seems to think his hell-raising movie that features misguided mayhem will appeal to the core audience (and it probably will), the tiresome ruckus being put forth is relentlessly loud and embarrassing. Chris Klein ("American Pie", "Election") is Jonathan Cross, an extreme-sporting hot shot athlete who is recruited to come and join an Eastern European rollerball team by his longtime buddy Marcus Ridley (LL Cool J).

The game of rollerball, in this case, combines the sporting activity of roller derby, football, and motocross. The stakes are very high and the players are encouraged to promote the insanity of this arena-style, high-falutin' event. Participants are dressed up in ridiculously futuristic warrior-type gear. And the nasty-minded European promoters are savvy enough to realize that the rollerball fans want pure adulterated bloodshed--anything to boost ratings and interest.

During Jonathan's involvement with his "extreme outlawish" stint on the rollerball circuit, he soon finds romance with a fellow desirable rollerballer named Aurora (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos). Once the game moves to the hungry confines of a Central Asian crowd, the hype builds up to escalated mawkish proportions.

Of course, that's the way that Russian rollerball entrepreneur Alexi Petrovich (Jean Reno, "The Professional", "Just Visiting") likes it. With the outrageousness and outlandish antics of his rollerballing empire, Petrovich experiences a natural high that obviously lines his pockets in generous, financial fashion. Presiding over what amounts to be an exploitative and lucrative sporting venture, Petrovich will stop it nothing at benefiting from the cartoonish carnage that's making him a major wheeler-and-dealer.

Upon finally realizing that the opportunistic Petrovich is becoming a fat cat off the bone-crushing backs of the clueless league players, Cross abandons his savage surge for the game and looks to take charge in bringing down the rich Russian rogue a notch or two. And so this rampaging and rollicking version of "The Mod Squad" on wheels--Cross, Ridley, and Aurora--engage in an elaborate plan to force feed Petrovich and his fellow investors their rightful comeuppance.

"Rollerball" is nothing but a confusing and shoddy excuse to mingle in the excesses of what the moviemakers deem a jittery treat. The screenplay by John Pogue and Larry Ferguson is tediously rambunctious and flagrantly gawky. The film doesn't even measure up to a weekly two-hour WWF stage show in the imagination department (in fact, a recent installment of a WWF episode had "Rollerball" stars Klein, LL Cool J, and Romijn-Stamos featured via a cameo in a futile effort to lure grappling fans to their copycat WWF-inspired lame flick).

McTiernan adds nothing new to stimulate this obnoxious nonsensical action adventure dud. With all the liberties taken of infusing "Rollerball" with doses of brief nudity, exhilarating violence and nonstop action sequences, the film still manages to give off a dull vibe.

The movie does give way to highlighting tricky camera angles and showcasing distractingly fuzzy filtered green lighting (during a chase scene) as it tries to conjure up a unique look but the end result still reminds us what a disjointed, shoddy exorcise this premise exhibits. The dialogue, it goes without saying, is foolishly numbing.

As the usual norm goes, character development in these types of genre movies are usually abandoned for the random ribaldry taken place. Klein, who goes through this inane flick like some poor man's version of Keanu Reeves, is an unpolished anti-hero who doesn't muster up any believability whatsoever as a charismatic rabblerouser.

You'd get more chills and thrills from the animated Loony Tunes icon The Roadrunner. Both Klein and LL Cool J ("Any Given Sunday") are unconvincing as a daredevil duo that reinforces the entire futuristic frolic that's supposed to capture our fancy. Romijn-Stamos is merely an eyecandy specimen as the Eurasian team member and Klein love interest.

If her lovemaking session with Klein in the surroundings of a weight room gets your hormones revved up, then I suppose you don't really demand much from Romijn-Stamos other than the fact that she makes you water as much as a lion craving a juicy pork chop.

And Reno's Russian mobster is needlessly over-the-top as the unctuous villain. I got better laughs (and goose bumps) from "Bullwinkle's" arch enemy Boris Badenov instead.

If splashy and simple-minded overwrought sports dramas is what gets you in the mood, then "Rollerball" is your arena-oriented activity to cherish. In an age where short attention spans welcome the quick and callous injections of rapid MTV-style provocative unconventional naughtiness, the empty-headed adrenaline of rebellious pretty bad boys in transparent movies like "The Fast and the Furious", or the pop culture craze of clownish and crafty behemoths in a Vince McMahon squared-circle universe, then I'm sure there's room for the frantic feebleness of McTiernan's dumb kinetic imagery for "Rollerball".

Thanks a lot, Mr. Jewison ... you see what you started!!

Frank rates this film: * star (out of 4 stars)

Film review by Frank Ochieng
Date Released: 02/08/2002
Rated: PG-13 (for brief nudity, sensuality, violence, extreme sports action, language, some drug references)
Film Length: 97 Minutes
Produced by: John McTiernan, Beau St. Clair, Charles Roven
Directed by: John McTiernan
Cast: Chris Klein, LL Cool J, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Jean Reno, Naveen Andrews
Distributor: MGM

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