Fresh from plundering Norman Jewison's back catalogue for a pedestrian remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, John 'Die Hard' McTiernan's skid down the career crapper continues with this rehash of the veteran director's cult favourite.
The 1975 original envisioned a dystopian future where corporations rather than nations rule, and the masses are pacified through hugely popular extreme sport Rollerball (think ice hockey meets drag bike racing, with extra blood). Rollerball (2002) is set "five minutes in the future" (thank you, press release) and the sport thrives only in "Central Asia", where those stupid Slavs can't get enough of Chris Klein's star player. That's right, Chris Klein: the gormless schmo from the American Pies, the clean-cut kid who can just about act dopey and naive if he concentrates, like, really hard. He is the replacement for James Caan.
Given there's a strong argument that we now do live in a corporation-controlled world, writers Larry Ferguson and John Pogue have ditched Jewison's individual-against-the-system schtick. Instead they opt to take facile digs at television (and human nature), proposing that the more violent a sport is the more people tune in, and that unscrupulous business types will exploit this. The conduit for this staggering revelation is Jean Reno's ruthless Rollerball creator, who plans a messy end for Klein and his mates (LL Cool J and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos - - both too good for the material) when they attempt to escape the game.
In a world where Survivor and Big Brother thrive, and the flamboyant fakery of WWF proves that TV violence needn't be real to succeed, the story is unforgivably stupid. But what's shocking is the ineptitude of McTiernan's action sequences. Rollerball is supposed to be a fast, thrilling game, but under his tutelage it comes off as a mildly malevolent Starlight Express. The incomprehensible barrage of choppy editing reaches its apotheosis in the finale, where the near-non-linear action and Klein's hilarious am-dram acting combine in what the commentator describes as a "no holds barred cock fight." He'll find no argument here.
An artless, vacuous and idiotic faux-satire that's guilty of all the sins it purports to condemn, Rollerball is John McTiernan's career nadir. His only consolation is this: he'll never make a worse film.