Directed by John McTiernan starring Chris Klein, LL Cool J, Jean Reno and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos
James Caan is an onscreen badass. In films like 'The Godfather', 'The Killer Elite', 'Violent Streets' and of course the original 1975 version of 'Rollerball', he took a hit-first-ask-questions-later intensity, added a feral intelligence and carved out his own brand of tough guy. Chris Klein meanwhile, has played Oz in the 'American Pie' movies. So if you were John McTiernan, a director who in the past has made such superb additions to the action movie genre as 'Predator' and 'Die Hard', who would you pick to play hardman Jonathan in your 'Rollerball' remake? A ball of tension in the vein of Caan or a comic actor with doe eyes and a goofy grin?
From the very start 'Rollerball' is all wrong: the cast isn't right, the plot isn't right and the action sequences are wholly uninspiring. Bringing forward the timeline of the original movie from 2015 to 2005, 'Rollerball' is now the thug sport of choice with TV audiences. Played in former Soviet bloc countries where the law isn't a problem and then beamed across the globe, it's a violent, ad-friendly hybrid of ice hockey, wrestling and the wall of death on a motorbike.
The posterboy for it all is Jonathan Cross (Klein) who along with buddy Marcus (LL Cool J) and Romijn-Stamos' mysterious Nadja (ie a Russian accent and a scar above her eye) form part of the title challenging team. But while their bruises are all in a night's skating, Klein & Co begin to wonder if the matches aren't getting a little over-the-top, if the injuries aren't becoming life-threatening and if 'Rollerball' bossman Petrovich (Reno) isn't putting all their lives in danger in his desire to up the ratings.
Originally meant to wallop cinema screens last year, 'Rollerball' is one of those big budget follies destined to hit cable channels very, very quickly. While locating the movie in the former Eastern bloc and having everyone from former Soviet agents to priests in the corporate boxes was a good idea, the rest of the plot is so bland that you'd probably have more fun watching boxing on teletext. The ludicrously hammy dialogue is given an extra helping of cheese with the overlong match sequences, which may be a victory for fast camerawork but never manage to get your pulse going. Throw in Klein's plankish performance, where the question of whether he's bewildered by 'Rollerball' the sport or 'Rollerball' the film will ricochet round your brain every minute, and McTiernan has created a film which should do wonders for the sales of Norman Jewison's just reissued original on DVD.
What this film needed more than anything was someone with onscreen presence, someone who could cover over the plot's shortcomings with bravado and take the game by the scruff of the neck and drag you along with it. If McTiernan had given Vin Diesel a pair of skates this could've been a whole different ballgame. Instead it's an own-goal fest that will have you asleep in your seat by half time.