Well once again the conventional wisdom turns out to be right. You would think that as dumb as a movie like this would probaly be, it might be enjoyable. Well, I would think that. But I would be wrong.
I’ve never seen the original, and I always meant to. I understand that it is kind of a satire of sports and american society’s thirst for violent entertainment. The great DEATH RACE 2000 was made to cash in on the same themes but is generally considered to be better. Anyway the approach that John McTiernan, the director of DIE MOTHERFUCKIN HARD 1 & 3, took was to set it in pretty much the present, since wrestling and ultimate fighting become more ridiculous and lurid than anything filmatists of the ’70s could’ve imagined. But there really aren’t new points to be made here.
I mean talk about weak stick it to the man moments. There is a part where a character gets in a bad motorcycle accident. Cut back to the obnoxious commentator (taken from an actual wrestling league I believe) and he sits in stunned, respectful silence. In another scene he is reading off a set of last minute changes to the rules, designed to endanger the lives of the athletes. Right in the middle he says, “This is bullshit!” Gimme a fuckin break.
The idea is that the sinister millionaire owner played by Jean Reno deliberately tries to have the athletes killed or maimed in the name of ratings. Inside the arena they have a real-time global ratings monitor which goes up significantly every time somebody gets hurt. As if all around the world, people with Nielsen boxes magically sense motorcycle accidents, turn it to ESPN2 for a few moments and then turn it off until it happens again.
The #1 problem of the movie is the casting of Chris Klein as Keanu Reeves. Now, I liked the dude in other movies. Apparently Alexander Payne saw him in a real high school while scouting for ELECTION and cast him to play the kind but moronic jock Paul Metzler. He was so perfect for the role of himself that they cast him as himself in the American Pie pictures. And by chance he looked like a slightly buffer Keanu Reeves, so suddenly he’s starring in a big action picture.
The problem is you can’t just grab some kid out of a high school hallway and turn him into Bruce Willis. He worked playing a dumb kid because everything he says sounds dumb. He has no idea how to deliver this dialogue convincingly, and when he tries anything different from a flat reading he comes off looking like a complete jackass. He is not ready to play a hero who has to come up with ideas, figure things out, and have confrontations with people.
Remember when I said SNATCH was a hollow remake of LOCK, STOCK AND ET AL, which was already devoid of substance? Well Chris Klein is SNATCH to Keanu’s LOCK STOCK.
The next problem is the Rollerball itself. If you had some idea of the rules of the game you’d be able to have some kind of suspense during the numerous game scenes. But I have no fuckin clue how it’s supposed to work. It has something to do with rollerskating, but sometimes they ride motorcycles. About halfway through the movie I noticed that they had a ball that they tried to throw against a metal thing. That was when I realized why it was called rollerBALL. Turns out there is something to do with a ball.
I fuckin dare John McTiernan, Chris Klein, LL Cool J or anyone involved in this movie to explain the rules of Rollerball. No fair checking the old movie.
And are they fake or are they real? The announcers give the protagonists fake backgrounds. When LL Cool J gets killed (spoiler) they claim he just got a virus during a south american archaelogical expedition and never deal with the ramifications of him being gone. They say Chris Klein was a pro hockey player even though he wasn’t, etc. So it’s all fake, right? But then for some reason the “bad guy” characters really threaten and try to hurt them while they’re playing, or rollerskating, or motorcycle riding, or whatever in fuck’s name they are trying to do, although I’m pretty sure they’re not really trying to do anything.
LL Cool J is the only one in the movie with charisma. Unless you count Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (the naked blue chick from X-Men) who has her hair dyed black, a scar on her face and talks in a Boris and Natasha accent. In case that doesn’t tip you off that she’s russian, they give her a giant fur hat. But she’s still not silly enough to be entertaining. Everyone plays it real serious, except maybe Jean Reno who continues to jeopardize his career by hamming it up in bad american summer movies.
The closest thing to McTiernan trying something interesting is that there is one long chase scene that is black and white tinted green. It looks like a security camera. I’m not sure why they did that.
Remember when this came out, and you didn’t bother to see it? Yeah, you had the right idea.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.