As a rule, I hate remakes. If the film being remade was a good one to begin with, why bother? Other than putting some fresh new faces into the cast, giving it the spit and polish of CGI and maybe changing the basic story up a bit, what's the point of redoing a film that's already been done? Some would argue that there's an entirely new, young audience that has never seen the original film and that the remake is for that generation, not the previous one. That used to be somewhat true but it's not any more. Almost every movie ever made is literally just a click and a download away for many people these days, so that theory isn't as sound as it used to be. I've always thought, why spend all of that money, time, talent and energy to do something that's already been done? Why not put all of that creative capital (and blood, sweat and tears) into something new, fresh and original?
Case in point. The original ROLLERBALL (1975) was not a classic by any stretch of the imagination. It was an interesting film however, certainly worth watching if for no other reason than to see how remarkably prescient the movie was about the partnership between major league sports and corporate media, especially television. Set in a future in which corporations rule the world, Rollerball, the game, is bread and circuses for the masses, a televised opiate of extreme violence and brutality. Jonathan (James Caan), is the game's best player but when he becomes larger than the game itself, he threatens his rich masters who plot to have him killed during a game. The game of Rollerball is an amalgamation of roller derby, football and motor cross as players skate and ride motorcycles around an oval track in an effort to place the spherical, metallic "rollerball" into the scoring receptacle.
That's about all there was to the first film. It was a good, but not great film. However, when compared to the 2002 remake, the original film looks like a bonafide masterpiece. Director John McTiernan's hot mess of a movie is full to bursting with gratuitous nudity, extreme violence, stunts, stunts and still more stunts, a downhill skateboard/luge race in San Francisco, an extremely loud and extremely annoying score by Eric Serra and enough lens flares to get J.J. Abrams through the next half dozen STAR WARS films.
Our hero is, once again, Jonathan (Chris Klein, who has absolutely no screen presence whatsoever), a young daredevil with no back story and no real motivation (other than money) to compete in this new version of Rollerball. The story takes place in 2005 where the game is played throughout Central Asia, Russia, China, Mongolia and Turkey. The action takes place on a figure 8 track which includes ramps and a clear Plexiglas tunnel suspended above the action. There are motorcycles, of course, but the old fashioned roller skates of the original film have been replaced by in line skates. Oh, and the teams are all both co-ed and internationally mixed. A comic book reference digression: the women team members sport costumes that look like they were stolen from the wardrobe of Jack Kirby's Female Furies.
Jonathan's best friend is Marcus Ridley (LL Cool J), a former professional athlete who recruits Jonathan with the promise of big money. Aurora (Rebecca Romjin-Stamos) is their teammate and Jonathan's main squeeze. Alexi Petrovich (Jean Reno) is the inventor/league commissioner of Rollerball and he has many shady, wealthy backers. Oh, and betting on Rollerball is not only allowed, it's encouraged.
The games are televised with a real-time audience ratings meter. The more violent the game, the higher the ratings. You can see where this is going, right? When players are brutally assaulted, crippled and left for dead, the ratings go up. Jonathan and Marcus decide they've had enough and engineer an escape across the Mongolian desert to the Russian border, an escape attempt that is shot entirely in green tinted "night vision" for no apparent reason. Marcus is killed and Jonathan is forced to play one more game (in which he's supposed to die). But Jonathan, Aurora, the players on both Rollerball teams and the fans all revolt against the ruling elite at the end of the film with Jonathan killing both Alexi and his right-hand man. There's no more Rollerball and there's no more movie. Remember kids, when the monster's dead, the movie's over.
Director John McTiernan shows little of the action film auteur credibility he established in the trifecta of PREDATOR (1987), DIE HARD (1988) and THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER (1990), all of which are better than ROLLERBALL. McTiernan's career hit the skids with the disastrous LAST ACTION HERO (1993) and none of his films since (DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE (1995), THE 13TH WARRIOR (1999) and the remake of THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR (1999)) made much of an impression.
If you've got to watch a film called ROLLERBALL, make sure it's the original. It's not great but it's certainly better than this piece of cinematic junk.