Rollerball (2002) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

There is good news and bad news with the Rollerball DVD. The bad news: the film on the DVD is Rollerball. The good news: at least it is the r-rated version.

Boy, am I a schmuck! When I heard that they were remaking Rollerball, I thought it was a great idea. It matches my major remake criterion perfectly, since the original was an average movie with great potential unfulfilled. Furthermore, director John McTiernan had recently done a great job at taking an average old movie, The Thomas Crown Affair, and improving upon it. The stars seemed to be in proper alignment for another success.

When I hoped for a Rollerball remake, I never considered the downside. The first Rollerball was also a movie that wasn't as bad as it could have been, and John McTiernan is also the same guy who made Nomads. I'm afraid that the Rollerball remake went over to the dark side. It is astounding in its complete ineptitude. 

Let's start with simple things, all of which are screwed up. Jean Reno plays a guy named Alexi Petrovich. How many things are wrong just with that simple opening sentence? First of all, Petrovich is a middle name, not a last name. It is an formulaic name, not a given one. Russian middle names automatically show the father's name. If your father is named Ivan Gorbachev, and your name is Dmitri, then your name is Dmitri Ivanovich Gorbachev.  Second of all, Jean Reno as a Russian who speaks like Pepe le Pew? Why not just change his name to Renoir or something French? (Or, and this is wild - why not hire a Russian guy or a guy who can convincingly impersonate a Russian?)

Then there is the logic of the film. In the future, all TV ratings will be seen instantaneously. If the ratings are hovering around 7, the owners decide to kill somebody off with a violent accident, and the ratings jump up instantaneously to 20.  So, you might fairly ask - how did that additional 13% know to turn on the TV? This is similar to the old gag where the announcer says "OK, kids, if you're not watching me now, please turn on your set, because you don't want to miss what's coming next".

Then there is the footage. There must be lots of it. Unfortunately, it doesn't make any sense when it is put together. The film must have more than a thousand cuts. I timed a randomly-selected two minutes with forty cuts, so that proportion would suggest about 2000 cuts in a 100 minute film. It's a long rock video, in both sight and sound.

Chris Klein as a tough-as-nails action hero? What were they thinking of?  Chris is a sweet puppydog kind of guy with a "whoa, dude" surfer boy accent that never disappears. I like him in his coming-of-age comedies, but he doesn't belong here as a tough guy. I don't want to say he's a candy-ass, but I did notice that the back of his jeans says Hershey instead of Levi.


Rebecca Romijn is topless in a lengthy, but dark scene in which she seduces Chris Klein.

Several of her team members are topless in the co-ed lockers.

There is one other topless woman at a party.

Connie Ogle of the Miami Herald summed it up pretty well:

"Dreadful acting, confusing action cinematography, choppy editing and embarrassing dialogue."

Or maybe you prefer James Sanford of the Kalamazoo Gazette

"If it were any more of a turkey, it would gobble in Dolby Digital stereo. If nothing else, Rollerball 2002 may go down in cinema history as the only movie ever in which the rest of the cast was outshined by LL Cool J."

Or maybe you prefer Glenn Lovell of the San Jose Mercury News

 "Not so much a redo of the 1975 sci-fi allegory of the same title as a denial of everything that made that film timely and interesting."

The major change in the remake is that the rollerball league is being put together by entrepreneurs who up the violence level to improve ratings and ticket sales. In the original version, it was the corporate-fascist society which used rollerball as opiate for the masses. The other plot details are fairly similar. The league's management keeps upping the ante on the violence until they play the final game with no rules at all. For the general idea of the plot, read the other review.

Director John McTiernan's films sorted by IMDb ratings

  1. (7.90) - Die Hard (1988)
  2. (7.60) - Hunt for Red October, The (1990)
  3. (7.20) - Predator (1987)
  4. (6.90) - Die Hard: With a Vengeance (1995)
  5. (6.80) - Thomas Crown Affair, The (1999)
  6. (6.10) - 13th Warrior, The (1999)
  7. (5.71) - Medicine Man (1992)
  8. (5.31) - Last Action Hero (1993)
  9. (5.27) - Nomads (1986)
  10. (2.96) - Rollerball (2002)

To be fair, Nomads is almost as bad as Rollerball, but not enough people are familiar with it to give it the low score it truly deserves. The Last Action Hero is not a bad film, but is rated low because it makes fun of its own target audience. In that film, Arnold Schwarzenegger makes fun of anyone foolish enough to like Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. This is not a strategy designed to get good scores from those fans when they mosey over to IMDb to vote.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Full-screen format, and a 2.35 widescreen anamorphic version

  • featurette on the stunt work

  • commentary from the actors

The seeds of McTiernan's incompetence with details were planted even in his good films.

I think that The Hunt for Red October is an exciting and entertaining movie, and should be rated high based on that, but Elya (my Russian wife) and her brother laughed at it all the way through. I mean they were howling out loud. Like "Rollerball", the film portrayed Russians and the Russian language with inaccuracies that could have been eliminated with even the simplest levels of fact-checking, or by hiring even one technical advisor who was familiar with the modern day language and culture. (Starting with the opening title of the movie, which misspells "Hunt for Red October" in Russian). In fact Tom Clancy himself, who wrote the eponymous novel, is supposed to be a stickler for accuracy and probably could have tidied up the errors.

Of course, we forgave McTiernan for his lack of cultural sensitivity that time, because Red October was a good flick. Not this time. No film on his list, not even the dreadful Nomads, is as bad as this. 

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: less than a star. Ebert .5/4, Berardinelli 1/4, 1/5

The People Vote ...

  • with their dollars: one of the biggest money losers in history. Made for $70 million, it grossed only $18 million, despite a 2700 screen rollout


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is an E, I guess. It has some visual splash and dash and glitz, thereby avoiding the dreaded F. (Tuna disagrees and says an F is appropriate: The additional 10 minutes in the r-rated cut contain breast exposure from Romijn-Stamos, and several unidentified female players and party girls. That brings the total of watchable minutes in this film to 10. This remake had a good chance of being better than the original, because the first one was not that strong, but they seemed determined to make the remake into the most unwatchable film possible. The music and cuts are jarring, the plot is pretty much non-existent, much of the film is shot in green noise, there is very little actual Rollerball action, and the dialogue is full of fake Russian.)

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