|Rollerball (Special Edition)|
|Written by Tara O'Shea|
|Tuesday, 18 June 2002|
"Rollerball" takes the world of extreme sports 20 minutes into the future. Directed by John McTiernan, the nonstop action film has more in common with the 1987 "Max Headroom" episode "Rakers" than the 1975 original “Rollerball” featuring starring James Caan. The film follows high school buddies Jonathan Cross (Klein) and Marcus Ridley (Cool J) as they make names for themselves as the stars of a violent cross between roller derby and floor hockey televised from third world countries by ruthless ex-KGB agent Petrovich (Reno). Mixing breathtaking stunts with social commentary, the naive Cross discovers that owner Petrovich is staging accidents on the court in order to win global ratings.
What follows is a muddled thriller, as Cross attempts to flee the county with Ridley, leaving behind true love and teammate Aurora (Romjin-Stamos). When Ridley is murdered, Cross takes justice into his own hands, aided by the dirt-poor miners of the team's hometown as they bring Petrovich down. One lone high point is Penn (of Penn & Teller) as the American sport commentator. However, his scenes are little more than an extended cameo, and while they lend a sense of satire to the film, they cannot even hope to save it from wretchedness.
While the stunts are noteworthy, McTiernan's overblown direction and maudlin attempts at drawing attention to the plight of the poor and downtrodden create a mire from which none of the actors are capable of extricating themselves. The characters are broadly drawn caricatures with little to redeem them. The climactic death of Ridley is shot in grainy night-vision green so blinding as to induce migraines. Klein, best known for playing sweet but dense characters in the "American Pie" franchise and the wickedly funny satire “Election,” comes off as a cardboard hero, while Romjin-Stamos' role is limited to sex object girlfriend and little else. Reno hams it up, along with co-star Andrews as mustache-twirling villain, and shows none of the charisma he displays in such films as "The Professional" and "Ronin." The film is gratuitous in every sense, packed with senseless violence and sophomoric sex (the girls and boys share a locker room, solely to facilitate a few topless female athletes to keep the guys drooling).
Visually, the disc is quite sharp. Fleshtones are not always optimal, and there is some grain in the night shots, but overall the transfer is clean and the colors vibrant, at times -- such as the night-vision scene -- a little too intense. The sound mix heavily favors bass rumbles and the techno rock score, which blares from mains and rears and does much to support the pounding pace of the action sequences. The dialogue is easy to understand (for those who are interested).
The absence of any kind of commentary from director McTiernan is immediately damning, and the commentary track Klein and Stamos, intercut with LL Cool J (recorded separately), does nothing to illuminate the film. Cool J in particular seems disjointed, as most of his commentary consists of shouts of glee, repetitive praise for his co-workers and excitement regarding his own stunts. While the film was vaguely watchable the first time around, watching it with commentary felt like a chore that even Romjin-Stamos' penchant for talking dirty could not make entertaining.
However, a pleasant surprise is the very through half-hour documentary on the film's stunts, which includes segments on Klein's training with members of Canada’s Olympic speed-skating team, and the many motorcycle stunts performed by a variety of extreme sport enthusiasts and Olympic-level athletes. Rounding out the special features is an interactive roster of the fictitious teams portrayed in the film, chock-full of computer graphics that make you feel as if you are in a hockey stadium watching them on the overhead screens.
The disc is worth renting for the stunt documentary alone, if that's where your interests lie. However, skip purchasing it, unless it's as a gag gift.