Rollerball (2002) review

Rollerball (2012) posterDirector: John McTiernan

Starring: Chris Klein, LL Cool J, Jean Reno, Rebecca Romijn, Naveen Andrews

“ROLLERBALL!” (Paul Heyman, Rollerball)

As I wrote in my recent review, the original 1975 version of Rollerball is a fantastic, prescient commentary on the way massive corporations suffocate society.

It’s also a superb action movie, with plenty of high-paced and violent sequences with rollerskates, motorbikes, fists and feet flying all over the place.

What a difference 27 years makes, then, because the 2002 remake is one of the biggest piles of vapid cockwash ever committed to celluloid.

This time the gritty James Caan role is spectacularly miscast, as Chris Klein (aka the lacrosse-playing sap from American Pie) gingerly steps into the shoes of lead character Jonathan Cross.

(The story goes that the studio initially wanted Keanu Reeves to take the role, something I can completely believe given that Klein seems to be impersonating a Matrix cosplayer half the time.)

"Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you were that guy who could actually do action movies"
“Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you were that guy who could actually do action movies”

Gone is the whole global corporation plot, otherwise known as the entire point of the original film’s story, and replacing it is some lacklustre yarn about Jonathan and his pal (LL Cool J) escaping to Kazakhstan to avoid the police back home.

While there the pair discover a sport called Rollerball and decide to sign up, because after all they’re unbearably cool extreme sports types (as evidenced by a piss-poor street luge section at the start of the film).

Rollerball 2002 pic 6
“They’ll never find me here… oh look, the paparazzi”

Eventually Jonathan becomes the greatest Rollerball player ever, which is a great idea because the best way to keep a low profile from the US authorities is obviously to become a national superstar in another country.

Things start getting dark when Jonathan discovers a plot by the organisers to increase TV ratings by deliberately manufacturing potentially fatal ‘accidents’.

Shocked, he and his chum (along with Rebecca Romijn, sporting the worst Russian accent ever) decide it’s time to get the fuck out of Eastern Europe. But there’s just one problem – the organisers aren’t having any of that, and will have no problem killing them off if they try to flee the country.

Can Jonathan escape the evil grip of promoter Alexei (Jean Reno, who should really have known better) and make it back home without being killed? Trust me, you’ll desperately struggle to care.

"Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you were her from the X-Men film" "I am" "Really? Wow, you fucked up"
“Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you were her from the X-Men film” “I am” “Really? Wow, you fucked up”

It’s no great revelation that most remakes aren’t as accomplished as the original subject material they’re based on, but the 2002 version of Rollerball really is a tragic piece of guff.

All the social and political commentary that made the first film so powerful has been completely removed, and in its place is all manner of ‘hip’ pish that was cool in 2002 but now, in 2016, already somehow feels more dated than the 1975 original.

This is now a film with cameos by Slipknot and Pink, and screams in your face almost the entire time, aided in part by a soundtrack by the likes of nu metal knobs P.O.D.

"And you're absolutely sure this is regulation uniform, Mr Hefner?"
“And you’re absolutely sure this is regulation uniform, Mr Hefner?”

It’s a film where nudity is rife for the sake of it – not that I usually have a problem with that but when it feels like there’s a cynical need to have baps every five minutes then I’m not quite so forgiving.

More notably, it’s a film with a fucking baffling car chase scene played out entirely in night vision.

This preposterous setpiece lasts an excruciating 7 minutes and 23 seconds (yes, I counted), throughout which you have to strain your way through a green-tinted, fuzzy mess of an alleged ‘action’ scene that really didn’t have to be in night vision in the first place, seeing as they’re in cars with headlights and such.

It all reaches peak what-the-fuck when what has easily got to be the least suitable sound effect in the history of motion pictures is played not once, but twice. Have a listen – I promise you I haven’t edited this in the slightest.

All this would be somewhat alleviated if the actual Rollerball sections were entertaining. After all, they were my favourite parts of the 1975 original so you’d think all these years later they’d look even more impressive.

You’d think.

They’re a mess, frankly. It’s nearly impossible to tell what’s going on, despite the best efforts of wrestling legend Paul Heyman who plays an enthusiastic commentator and is pretty much the only decent thing in this entire movie.

Why is this even happening
Why is this even happening

It’s quite telling that the original didn’t even have commentary during its Rollerball scenes yet still managed to get the story across in a less confusing manner than a remake which insists on having someone explain everything to you.

Take a ‘70s classic and remove its heart and this is the result. The 2002 Rollerball is the ‘70s one with none of its striking design, none of its intelligence and none of its passion.

The original Rollerball was a film about the way the world could soon be controlled and dominated by massive companies. The remake is a film made by one.


Rollerball‘s low rating earns it a place in the notorious TWABM Hall Of Shame. Click here to see what other pishfests made the grade (or, indeed, failed to).

Wow, you’re brave. Okay, the UK DVD can currently be found for the princely sum of £0.01 on Amazon. There was no UK Blu-ray. A nation mourns. If you live in the US, here’s the DVD and here’s the Blu-ray – the night vision thing is just as blurry in the latter


One thought on “Rollerball (2002) review

  1. “the 2002 remake is one of the biggest piles of vapid cockwash ever committed to celluloid.”

    Dear Sir, I think I’ll print this out and frame it. The original with James Caan is one of my all time favourites, I’m still not over the anger and frustration this waste of celluloid caused me. Thanks for a good laugh!

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