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Rollerball (2001)
Director: John McTiernan

review by Stuart J. Law

We first meet Jonathan Cross (Chris Klein) as he races downhill, luge-style, on an elongated skateboard-thing. It's quite exciting; ducking under trucks, scraping round corners. The cops chase him down. Cross runs into (literally) old friend Marcus Ridley (LL Cool J), who saves his butt, then suggests he come to Northern Asia and play rollerball. And that's the best part of the film. The credits haven't even come up yet.
   This movie is atrocious. Director McTiernan made some of the best action films in recent decades (Predator, Die Hard, The Hunt For Red October), but here is a film that continually frustrates and disappoints. The actual game of rollerball is nearly incomprehensible. People whiz about on roller-blades and motorcycles, tossing a steel ball about and hoping to score goals. The camera shots are too tight, so you have no sense of space or speed, and the woeful editing just leaves you baffled as to who has the ball and where they are going with it.
   Away from the game sequences, edit glitches persist. Occasionally, a person will jump about in frame; in a fight scene, a leg noticeably disappears before Cross's foot connects with it. If you are generous, you may think this was just an excess of style, but to me it simply played as if someone removed a bunch of frames (rumours abound of hasty re-edits before the release), and such sequences just do not make sense.
   The story is about Cross discovering team boss Petrovich's (Jean Reno) plans to up the in-game violence and so achieve higher TV ratings. Cross rumbles the plot, and tries to escape, but Petrovich threatens Cross's girlfriend Aurora. So Cross returns for one last match, which Petrovich intends on making Cross's literal testimonial. It's all pretty linear, but still there seems to have been little room for such after thoughts as characterisation. During the game, some players wear masks and head dresses that cover their entire faces. They have funky names like Jester and Black Widow. Such tags could say something about their in-game personas, although no time is spent developing this. Not being able to see their faces means that, away from the rollerball arena, helmets off, we have no idea who was who. Black Widow and Cross bitch about each other in-game; out of game Aurora and Cross are lovers. Oh, hang on; Aurora and Black Widow are the same person! (Played by Rebecca Romijn-Stamos). A fundamental to the story and it nearly gets lost.
   The biggest puzzle is why McTiernan shot a whole sequence in night-vision. Cross and Ridley have escaped from Petrovich (with a helping hand from the editor, who skips the actual escape and goes straight to what would logically come next). They flee across a desert. OK, there would be no lights, but why reduce everything to a dull shade of green? The actors are momentarily unrecognisable, because they suddenly appear as weird cartoon-like figures, drawn in different shades of the one crayon. It might look spooky, but it has no purpose in the story. McTiernan has tried strange visual effects before in Predator, but at least the effect simulated the alien's point of view. It meant something there; here it's totally out of place. Romijn-Stamos looks pretty, even with a scar. The best performance comes from Naveen Andrews, who plays Petrovich's right hand man Sanjay. Nobody else is worth much consideration.
   The Region 2 DVD extras are all pretty naff. The Rollerball Yearbook is just a collection of bubblegum cards (which actually say more about the players than the film does). LL Cool J's commentary (with Klein, and Romijn-Stamos) is a series of whoops and yells; lots of hot air that cannot possibly resuscitate this carcass. There's also theatrical trailers, a Rob Zombie music video, scene selection, language/subtitles options.
Rollerball
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