Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

High concept executed with high seriousness, 1975's Rollerball presented a vision of the future that might have come from Noam Chomsky rather than William Harrison, author of the original story and screenplay: Corporate interests rule every aspect of society, keeping the masses distracted with the wildly popular violent titular sport. Directed with probably too much somberness by Norman Jewison, the film wasn't wholly successful, but its attempts to use violence to provoke thought, rather than dull it, have aged nicely over the years, as have its themes. This long-delayed remake directed by John McTiernan (Die Hard, Predator, Last Action Hero) seems almost like an apology for the original, paying lip service to its predecessor's concerns while piling one nonsensical, aggressively stupid action scene atop another. The usually charming Chris Klein, whose presence here is reduced to stiff Keanu-isms, stars as an aspiring hockey star who runs afoul of the law by indulging in extreme sports on the streets of San Francisco. Prompted by pal LL Cool J, he travels to a corrupt, impoverished Central Asian country where rollerball is king. The sport, which proves even more confusing than Harry Potter's Quidditch matches, combines rollerblading, motorcycling, field hockey, and the pageantry of the WWF in one unpalatable stew adored by local miners and television audiences alike. Quickly ascending to stardom, Klein lives as high a life as possible in the rural wastes of his new home, where he's pampered by powerful corporate overlord Jean Reno (who seems to have a grand time letting a silly mustache, a flashy fur coat, and a Boris Badenov accent do the acting for him). When Klein, Cool J, and mysterious biker Rebecca Romijn-Stamos begin to suspect that Reno has begun tampering with the game to make it more violent for the sake of ratings—measured in a digital counter marked "Global Rating"—they're forced to fight for their lives. Rollerball was reportedly tampered with extensively over the months since its planned release last summer, and the signs that it's been edited past the point of comprehensibility arrive early. Before the movie's first match, Cool J turns to Klein and asks, "You got your armadillo on?" The comment makes sense eventually, but it initially sounds jarringly bizarre. Elsewhere, there are numerous signs that the film has been trimmed to fit within PG-13-friendly parameters, including a sex scene with the phoniest digital masking since Eyes Wide Shut, and action that confusingly cuts away from the moment of violence. Not that a decent film could have been salvaged from this footage: A lengthy sequence shot as if seen through a pair of green-tinted night-vision goggles is only the most puzzling of many puzzling choices. At one point, a character intones, "The integrity of the game must be maintained," while watching flamboyantly costumed rollerballers engaging in a chaotic battle royal on the floor. It's all business as usual in the world of rollerball and Rollerball. Only those attracted to Waterworld- or Last Action Hero-level big-budget disasters need bother with this one.


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