Monday, May 20, 2013

Let's Get Ready To Rollerball

Keanu Reeves. Jake Lloyd. All the actors presumably far worse than Hayden Christiansen OR Jake Lloyd that didn't get cast in the prequels. Anyone in Troll 2. A sack of flour. The sack of flour's less good-looking younger brother. Jamie Kennedy. Jamie Kennedy's less good-looking younger brother. 

It's incredibly easy to think of men and inanimate objects that could give better performances than Chris Klein. And yet, the forehead keeps shining on the big screen.

Quick Plot: In Central Asia--no, really, that's as specific as we get--a new 'sports entertainment' trend is sweeping the subcontinent/country. Rollerball is essentially roller derby with a dash of motorcycles, a hint of Quidditch, and a sprinkle of GWAR. Eastern European coal miners LOVE it.

Enter LL Cool J cast against type as (SPOILER ALERT!) a character who does not survive to the end reels. LL convinces his pal Nash, Interpol to leave behind the world of illegally luging down the streets of LA (in the near future, it's apparently a thing) to throw on a helmet, not close the chin strap, and skate around a loud indoor arena while a gang borrowing hand-me-down Mad Max leotards chases him for sport. 

From the elaborate costuming to the encouragement of fan mania, the sport of rollerball is not entirely unlike professional wrestling. There's a reason Paul Heyman costars as an excitable announcer and Shane McMahon makes a brief cameo. This is a game where men (and women) put their lives and bodies on the line with no solid weight of glory. They willfully submit themselves to breaking their bones on television, the reward being a decent salary and temporary-to-loyal fan adoration. At some point in its writing process, Rollerball actually had a fairly neat and fertile parallel to potentially explore. 

Unfortunately, that's pretty much the only interesting aspect of this woefully misguided collection of scenes that sort of resembles a movie. Directed by John McDieHardPredatorTiernan, Rollerball was fairly infamous for its long life in post-production. Test audiences hated it, causing its studio to cut and paste a new version with all the skill of a clumsy southpaw kindergarten student using right-handed safety scissors. The original R-rated version was tamed down to PG-13, ironic when the thesis of your film revolves around our insatiable thirst for violence. Somehow despite two push-back release dates and a whole lot of editing, the producers never thought to cut its biggest issue: that forehead otherwise known as Chris Klein.

In a perfect world, this man would become Tommy Wiseau's muse. In a more perfect world, he would make a deal with a gray-skinned sea witch wherein he sells his speaking voice for a handful of magic beans and ends up trapped in a valley high above our planet where all the women are overweight and don't cook for him.

But back to Rollerball, the  movie about the game in which the stakes are so high, our villain (the one and only Jean Reno, trying in vain to be able to claim one movie on his resume worse than Godzilla) is willing to kill innocent young athletes because, and I quote, he is 'THIS CLOSE TO A NORTH AMERICAN CABLE DEAL!'

Look, 1975's Rollerball was not a good movie. Much like Logan's Run and Westworld, it stands as one of that decade's brilliant sci-fi film premises that ended up a mediocre bucket of popcorn. And yet, when you put it next to this aggressively awful remake, it looks like pure gold surrounded by delicious chocolate and world peace.

There are heavyhanded politics that go as detailed as "It's us against them!" Vague allusions to a downtrodden people that have no weight because, well, we DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT COUNTRY THIS IS TRAKING PLACE IN. The film sort of wants to say something about the 1% owning its people, but the idea that the apple pie American Chris Klein is the great liberator of poor Eastern European coal miners and Central Asian spectators (seriously, I'm even more confused) is just offensive. Rollerball claims a prized spot on Rotten Tomatoes worst reviewed films of the decade list, and it's deserved. This is a bad movie, one that really should only refer to itself as a "movie" with air quotes.

High Points
Even though the sport is a mess that the best Jeopardy! champion couldn't dream of understanding, the film does have a smidgen of fun when it focuses on the actual act of rollerball, from the bizarre costumes to the annoying (yet fitting) rock soundtrack that would accompany it

Low Points
Aside from EVERYTHING IN THIS TERRIBLE FILM, I'll go with a few specifics:

-Characters constantly referring to being in a specific country (i.e., "I looooove this country" and "I am NOT gonna DIE in this COUNTRY!") despite the film's only actual acknowledgement of what that country is being "Central Asia"

-That the opening credits begin, and are then rather rudely interrupted with another credit telling us where we are (say it with me: Central Asia) and then confusingly returning to the credits. For all I know, "Central Asia" was actually an actor. 

-That Naveen "There IS No Sayid" Andrews is in this movie without his scruffy yet sexy facial hair

Lessons Learned
In Central Asianspeak, My mother's a pediatrician" translates to "Yes, she is a crack whore"

If riding 120 mph on a motorcycle in the middle of the Central Asian wilderness, it’s best to use an indoor voice. Seriously, your partner can hear everything at 120 mph on a motorcycle.

Cutting the chinstrap of a rollerball competitor is akin to first-degree murder, but playing the sport without snapping the chinstrap is akin to being cool

North Americans are really good at firing shotguns one-handed, so long as the stakes are high and the mood is slow-mo

The Winning Line
“Your face isn’t nearly as bad as you think it is,” says Klein in regards to the paper-cut sized scratch on the cheek of supermodel Rebecca Romjin-(then) Stamos. I don’t know about the rest of you ladies, but sign me up for that pillowtalk before I fall asleep

Rollerball is indeed one of the worst studio films of the 2000s. In other words, if you're like me, then yes, you should OF COURSE head to Netflix Instant and give it a stream. It's bafflingly bad, which is entertaining in its own right. But those who seek quality are better off elsewhere, and those who enjoy mediocrity can comfort themselves with the James Caan original. 

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