Rollerball

Movie Review by Nigel A. Messenger

Starring: Chris Klein, Jean Reno, LL Cool J, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Naveen Andrews

Director: John McTiernan

The title ROLLERBALL has been around for a long time because of course it belonged to the original version of the film back in 1975 starring James Caan. The original was set in the future and featured a violent sport, the Rollerball of the title. At the time of release it was quite controversial because, it was suggested, plans were afoot to actually make Rollerball a real sport, which would include a lot of the violence seen on screen.

As far as I know this never came about but in any case the original movie was a powerful and well-made film. However, if you watch the original now time really has caught up with it and it seems slow and drawn out in parts. With such an intriguing premise it’s no surprise that we are now watching a remake, fully updated and reworked to fit in with the world as it is today.

Now ROLLERBALL is in the very near future in fact and takes place in Kazakhstan where, it’s easier to openly exploit society’s rules. Instead of corporations owning and controlling Rollerball it’s organised crime in the guise of Petrovich (Jean Reno) and they broadcast the games via satellite to channels in every country they get to buy the TV rights. Now they are after a lucrative North American cable deal, which looks set to happen largely due to the popularity of their star player, an American named Jonathan (Chris Klein).

High ratings in the markets where Rollerball is already broadcast will also help the deal to happen and will also increase profits and its not long before they realise that the more ‘accidents’ and violence in the games, the higher the ratings.

So accidents are engineered and the players suffer more and more injuries and while most of them stay for the money Jonathan and his fellow team-mate Marcus (LL Cool J) decide they want out before someone gets killed. There is also a love interest for Johnathan in the form of the gorgeous Aurora (Rebecca Romijn Stamos) who is also a Rollerball player.

This reworking of ROLLERBALL has been brought right up to date and uses many of today’s facts to create its fiction. ROLLERBALL is after all just a version of a Rollerderby in which both men and women take part with added motorbikes on the track, which add more speed and more possibilities. Controversial television does increase ratings and distribution by satellite is everyday reality.

There are also no ‘slow bits’ in this ROLLERBALL, in fact in true John McTiernan style the action runs from start to finish with a ferocious rock soundtrack to add to the sensation.

Those who’ve seen the original might feel that the climatic scene where the crowd chants Jonathan’s name just doesn’t work as well here, it just doesn’t seem as powerful, perhaps because Jonathan’s character hasn’t been built up as much or possibly just because the whole film is just so fast moving that the scene loses its impact.

Overall I would rate this version of ROLLERBALL a success and it’s interesting to note how much closer we now are to the film’s reality than we were 27 years ago.

4 out of 6 stars

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