Rollerball is another perfect example of a film that doesn't want to live up to expectations. Delayed for over a year, ranging in at $80 to $100 million in budget, Rollerball was destined to be a stinker long before it hit theaters in the February of 2002. As I popped this disc into my DVD player, I had a thought somewhere in the back of my mind that maybe Rollerball could at least serve up some mindless thrills, but, sadly, I was mistaken. Rollerball is just as bad as everyone says it is.
Rollerball is a sport where you try to throw a metal ball against a target. In your way, there is another team of players on rollerblades and motorcycles that try to keep you from your goal. Of course, you have a team of your own. In fact, it's just like Harry Potter's Quidditch, only not. Unfortunately for the movie, the sport Rollerball is almost as dumb as Matt Stone and Trey Parker's BASEketball; it has not entertainment value, no point, and seemingly not much challenge to it. Director John McTiernan doesn't help matters by giving the game absolutely no suspense - he shows the TV ratings board quite a bit, but never the game's score; how are we supposed to know who's winning, and why should we care? The point is that Rollerball's central focus is idiotic, so the rest of the movie slides away like melted butter on the side of a building. If that didn't make any sense, neither does the movie.
Essentially, the plot of the movie is that the owners are so worried about losing ratings that they start to arrange the injuries and deaths of players so more people will watch. In the center of it all are two teammates, Chris Klein (American Pie) and LL Cool J (Deep Blue Sea) who suspect that something is going on but find it is very difficult to "walk out" on their contract. So that's the plot. It is never explained why only this one team gets targeted for injuries, and why the opposing teams are all the more immoral to go and purposely injure their competition. We're just supposed to let that slide. Oh, and it's never explained how Rollerball got started in the first place, or why anyone watches it, period.
The worst part about Rollerball, aside from the bad acting and lousy script, is the direction. John McTiernan is a world-class action director, but he was obviously completely lost doing this picture. The editing is terrible, huge chunks seem to be missing from the story (the movie jumps from Klein sitting in an alley thinking about what to do to suddenly being the biggest star in Rollerball history), and things just get worse as the film rolls on. There is a huge sequence out in the desert where Klein and LL Cool J try to escape from Jean Reno, and the whole thing is shot in green night vision. The quality is low, everything is grainy, and it's not that fun watching green night vision for long periods of time. Then, during the final fight scene, McTiernan decides to show everything in very short snippets - so short, in fact, that he cuts up a shot of Klein punching a guy repeatedly and just shows portions of the fight. It looks cluttered and unprofessional. Rollerball is bad all around, but the reason it is this bad can be solely blamed on John McTiernan.
The only highlight of the whole film is a nude shot of Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, but McTiernan doesn't exactly capitalize on her sexiness here. In fact, he doesn't even give her a chance to explain her character (well, he doesn't exactly go in depth with any of the characters).
Rollerball is a huge disaster. It's amazing that this movie ever got made in the first place, and it is even more amazing that MGM was willing to embarrass everyone involved by releasing it in theaters.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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