Rollerball (2002)

There’s a line that you can’t cross when making a film like Rollerball. When you come to the point in the production — and this can be as early as when you first read the script but are being offered a ton of money and therefore are moving ahead on the film anyway — when you realize that the movie isn’t going to be good, you have to at least keep it competent. You can’t just give up and make the film both silly, stupid and incomprehensible. Unfortunately, Rollerball is all three of those things, although it’s played so straight that there isn’t a single laugh given by any of the actors within it.

We begin somewhere in America, watching a street race involving people lying down on skateboards and racing through traffic without being able to see where they’re going. It’s like the luge, except with a much greater chance of death. The police are aware of this, as they show up with an entire squadron in order to stop two daredevils willing to risk their lives for a bit of fun. One of them crashes, while the other, Jonathan (Chris Klein), is picked up by his friend, Marcus (LL Cool J), just narrowly avoiding the seemingly endless number of cops who dedicate their time to stopping this travesty.

Marcus informs Jonathan that over in Europe and parts of Asia, there’s a mysterious game called “Rollerball,” which pays big money for Americans to come over to play. Jonathan, a wannabe NHLer, wants to stay in America to pursue his dream, but after being dropped off and finding out that the cops are still pursuing him, he decides to board a plane and join Marcus’ team. At least, I assume that’s what happened, as the film lets us jump to our own conclusions.

I swear this is true: The very next scene has Jonathan on a team, and as the main star, presumably after one incredible game, as he still goes around referring to himself as the “new player.” At this point, I was trying to remember if Jonathan was the name of the guy we met earlier, or if he was going to be rival of the new player. Nope, they’re the same person, and we have no idea how he got to this position. He’s not even that good once the Rollerball games begin. Sure, he’s talented, but so is everyone else.

Not even the Rollerball parts of Rollerball make sense. That is the single thing that the filmmakers needed to get right. I could forgive terrible plotting, acting, editing — even the lighting frequently got in the way of my enjoyment — but if the titular sport is done poorly, I’m sorry, but we’re pretty much done here. The rules are explained to us by a television broadcaster played by Paul Heyman, although they never factor in. All I could understand was that there is a figure-eight track, and you need to throw a metallic ball into a goal to score.

Apart from that, the rules are unclear. They’re thrown out during the final game anyway, which made me wonder what the purpose was to include them. “So that the stakes can be raised at the end,” the film would argue, although that purpose is fulfilled by the girl being captured and needing rescue. The Rollerball scenes are pieced together without a coherent thought, images are interspersed that do not connect, there’s no logic to anything that happens, and we frequently cut away to see Jean Reno as the businessman make funny quips in a faux Russian accent. Oh, and there are motorcycles on each team, even though most people are wearing roller blades on their feet. Why?

Yes, there ends up being a plot involve Reno’s character, television ratings and a cable deal, not to mention a rebellion because — I don’t really know. This is about as incoherent as a film can get. I know that there were characters but why they cared about each other or would risk their lives so that others don’t die gets ignored. I know that Jonathan and Aurora (Rebecca Romijyn-Stamos) fall in love, although the “why” is once again not brought up. I guess it doesn’t matter; she’s there to become Princess Peach anyway.

I should mention that there was a film in the 70s that was also titled “Rollerball.” It was similar to this one, except that it made sense. Surprisingly, it was actually set more in the future than this 2002 installment is, taking place in 2018 as opposed to 2005. I don’t know if this film would have been improved if it was set more than 40 years after its release, but it would have at least helped with the dystopic idea that tried to be utilized.

Yeah, there are poor people in the world. Jonathan and Curtis get paid — as one character says — 100x as well as the people working in mines. There’s definitely a class disparity at work here, and this was kind of a big point in the original. So that’s missing, even though there are portions of the film when I thought it was going to be brought up and focused on. That doesn’t happen, and instead, we focus on a non-important plot or — and I wish I was kidding here — a fifteen minute sequence shot in “night vision,” despite none of the characters wearing night vision goggles.

Rollerball is ridiculous. I don’t think it could be something different. But it takes itself too seriously, which is a problem when your material is this bad, is handled poorly, and doesn’t make sense. Nothing in this film works. Go watch the original if you want to see basically the same film, but slightly better. Otherwise, you’re better watching any sport on cable. Even watching basketball, which I consider to be the most boring sport you can see, would be more enjoyable. This is a terrible film on all possible levels, and you’re better off using your time for pretty much anything else.

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