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Rollerball (2002)

August 13th, 2007 · 5 Comments

John Huston once said: “”There is a willful lemming-like persistence in remaking past successes time after time. They can’t make them as good as they are in our memories, but they go on doing them and each time it’s a disaster. Why don’t we remake some of our bad pictures … and make them good?” This Distracted Globe recycles itself and examines the best and worst remakes.

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By Joe Valdez

Jonathan (Chris Klein) picks up some cash by participating in a street luge through San Francisco. He eludes police with the help of his buddy Rid (LL Cool J), who scoops Jonathan up in a Porsche. Rid is loaded with cash he’s made playing something called Rollerball in Asia. He asks his buddy to join him, but Jonathan prefers to try out for the NHL. With cops surrounding his place, he changes his mind.

In Central Asia four months later, Jonathan and Rid play for a team called the Red Horsemen. The game of Rollerball is a combination of roller derby, the WWF and the circus. It’s unscripted, but is relatively bloodless. The owner of the Red Horsemen, Petrovich (Jean Reno) discovers that global ratings spike whenever violence is introduced onto the track.

A Dutch motorcyclist named Aurora (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) tries to warn Jonathan that management is fixing the games so that players are hurt. Once he and Rid are convinced of this, they attempt to escape to Russia, but Petrovich’s henchmen hunt them down. Realizing Jonathan will bolt the first chance he gets, Petrovich attempts to have him killed on the track.

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Director John McTiernan agreed to develop a remake of the 1975 science fiction film Rollerball for MGM. The original took place in a distant future dominated by corporations instead of nations. Upper management channels the rage of the populace into a violent sport called Rollerball, until the popularity of the game’s champion player begins to threaten their control. Keanu Reeves was in talks to fill James Caan’s shin guards as Jonathan.

Larry Ferguson wrote a first draft. David Campbell Wilson did a revision that structured the script much like the original film. It took place in the 25th century, using a viral catastrophe to establish how the corporations took control of the world. Wilson’s draft was said to be an improvement over the original in every aspect.

McTiernan felt he didn’t need to go 500 years into the future to examine violence in entertainment. He was fascinated by the showmanship of the World Wrestling Federation and wanted Rollerball to reflect that culture. John Pogue was brought in to start over from scratch. Pogue set the story in Kazakhstan and invented a Russian tycoon as the villain. It was set in the futuristic era of 2005.

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Pogue’s draft got Chris Klein and LL Cool J attached and McTiernan to commit to directing. One person who didn’t care for where the project was headed was Harry Knowles, who used his popular website Ain’t It Cool News to blast MGM publicly for a year. Two months before the film was to be released, Knowles received a call from McTiernan. The director wanted to fly Knowles and two of his friends from Austin in a private jet to view a work print.

With studio executives in attendance, Rollerball was test screened in New York. The work print was a hard R rating, full of bone crushing violence and full frontal nudity courtesy Rebecca Romijn-Stamos. But Knowles didn’t care for what he saw, and reported to his readers, “This film is a complete embarrassment. Personally, if I was MGM, I’d digitally remaster and re-release the original. It would gross more than this crap easily.”

Stunned that McTiernan had invited Knowles and his cohorts to the screening, and aware they had a film that was bombing, MGM pushed the release date from August 2001 to February 2002. A new ending was shot, and the film cut from an R to a PG-13 rating so it could appeal to teenagers. It was a commercial disaster anyway, a $70 million production that grossed $19 million in the U.S.

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The 1975 version of Rollerball gets better each time I watch it. It works as a visceral entertainment and as an eerie commentary on where director Norman Jewison felt society was headed at the time: domination by corporations, increasing hostility channeled into sports, and drugs as a daily facet of life. It has its flaws, but with a bigger budget and better resources, was an ideal property to be remade.

The 2002 version of Rollerball is ridiculously conceived, pathetically scripted, horribly cast, with bad music and scenes that have been recut so many times, absolutely nothing makes sense. This is the worst possible outcome you could expect from a movie. It’s not over-the-top enough to be funny, making the 92-minute running time that much more mind numbing.

The decision to comment on the WWF dumbs everything down to a level only Bobby “The Brain” Heenan would be happy with. The game of Rollerball is so incomprehensible that nothing that has anything to do with it works. The project ended Chris Klein’s career as a leading man for good reason, while the brilliant baroque music in the original is replaced by Rob Zombie and Slipknot. That says everything you need to know about what a piss poor effort this is.

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“Maybe if the studio didn’t sell out on the film by having all the sex and violence cut out it would’ve been worth a gander … then again … probably not. This flick is god-awful and I pity anybody that goes to see it,” says John Fallon at Arrow In The Head.an

Patrick Naugle at DVD Verdict writes, “Normally I’m all for crap like Rollerball, but this time around I’m relenting – this film just isn’t worth anyone’s time.”

“Junk, junk, junk, junk, junk. Boring junk. Noisy junk. Ugly and formless junk. Junk,” writes Ian Waldron-Mantgani at The UK Critic.

Tags: Sports

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 sirjorge // Aug 14, 2007 at 5:42 am

    the only cool thing is that Paul Heyman & Shane McMahon are in the movie.

  • 2 Cinebeats // Aug 15, 2007 at 5:55 pm

    I had the painful experience of catching this playing on TV not too long ago and for some reason I kept watching just to confirm what my gut had long ago told me… this movie is BAD. I could only could sit through about an hour before my head started to hurt.

    But I totally agree with you about the first one. It’s gets better every time I see it.

  • 3 Joe Valdez // Aug 16, 2007 at 9:54 pm

    Jorge: I don’t know, man. Maybe if Jimmy “Mouth of the South” Hart had made a cameo, I could share your enthusiasm.

    Kimberly: I vaguely remember catching the ending of this on Encore a couple of years ago. It was like a bad nightmare I thought I had conquered, but having to watch this again brought it all back.

  • 4 Gabriella // Feb 20, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    I think it is a good movie for those who have some bonestructure that can take it in. who givs a shit if its appropriate for teenagers or whatever, if the dont want to watch it then dont. its just a movie for gods sake, soon you ar all gonna blame the movies for teenagers violence today.
    it is a movie that has it all, drama,action,love, sex and friendship i mean there is always something that is missing for some people, its pathetic people.

  • 5 Sedate Me // Aug 19, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    I actually think you’re being too kind to this bucket of sewage!

    I’ve tried and failed to sit through it 3 times now and I enjoy watching lousy movies! Rollerball 2001-er-2002 is just THAT bad.

    It’s rare to have a film that is really bad without the acting being a primary culprit. The mediocre to poor acting doesn’t even hit the Top 10 list of why this movie blows. To think they sunk $70M into this septic tank!

    I can only imagine what the untouched 2001 version looked like before the studio tried to repair it. Because this is the most nonsensical, unwatchable, unbelievable, piece of crap I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen a lot of crap in my day.

    This movie deserves to go down as the worst film of all time. Unfortunately, given the current quality of movies being made these days, I fear it’s not even the worst of this decade.

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