Movie review: Remake of ‘Rollerball’ is unwatchable

rb2 rb1I’ve written before about remakes and how they are usually inferior to the original, but I’ve come across possibly the poster child of why no remake should ever be made: “Rollerball.” The original, starring James Caan, was deep, dark and had the proper amount of action and violence necessary to a solid, layered and intelligent film. Fast forward 27 years and you get a remade “Rollerball” that is nearly unwatchable the first time (but I made it) and virtually unwatchable ever again. It just reeks of bad acting, abysmal direction and a lack on every other production angle. Today’s blog post isn’t so much a review of the movies as it is an indictment of the work of director John McTiernan, who is better than this piece of flotsam. It forever tainted his reputation (along with a Hollywood scandal that landed him in a federal clink).

(1975; 125 minutes; rated R; directed by Norman Jewison and starring James Caan, John Houseman and Maud Adams)
(2002; 98 minutes; rated R; directed by John McTiernan and starring Chris Klein, Jean Reno and LL Cool J)


Anyone who can make “Die Hard” and “Predator” should never, ever have had a hand in the remake of “Rollerball.” Director John McTiernan would remake “The Thomas Crown Affair” in 1999 (click here for my review) and it would set the big screen sizzling with forty-somethings and is in many ways better than the original. However, when he tried his hand at another remake three years later, it was a complete, utter and unmitigated disaster. Remakes aren’t all bad (click here for my look at some others), but it’s close to unbelievable how unwatchable this one turned out.


rb1If you don’t remember, the original “Rollerball” starred James Caan, just three years (and “Freebie and the Bean”) removed from “The Godfather” and made an intelligent point about the future, our way of thinking and how dangerous an iconic or heroic individual could threaten a corporate structure carefully set up to perpetrate its own existence (actually sounds like a movie that should be made fresh today or was with “V for Vendetta” in 2005).

The remade “Rollerball” hits a few similar points, but without the intelligence, acting or storyline that makes any sense. In fact, the original made nearly twice as much in ticket sales in 1975 as the remake did in 2002. That’s total sales and NOT adjusted dollars.

What I’m examining today is the truly and unbelievably horrid pile of dung that is the remake of the original “Rollerball.” It has absolutely no redeeming quality. The action stinks; maybe two actors can even say that they “act;” the cinematography is junk; and the plot is something that looks and is expressed as if it was put together by an LSD-addled fool.

Let me hit a couple of high points about the original. “Rollerball” was a great story set in the future: Caan played “Jonathan E.,” who was the top “rollerball” player. It is the international favorite sport of the future and its action scenes, which were filmed at the Munich Olympic basketball venue (although I recall and there are several internet references to a Munich Olympic velodrome – an indoor bicycle track). The action was straightforward and solid, with the players cool in their leather with steel studs on their gloves and the steel rollerball in action.

Next best was the story – set in the future, people are controlled by corporations that have divvied up the earth into areas of influence and whose CEOs direct policy that shapes all lives on the planet. No physical books exist (they’re all digitized and stored on networks – sound familiar? – and they’ve all been edited to meet the corporations’ view of, well, everything).

Finally, the best thing is the acting of Caan and John Houseman, who plays “Mr. Bartholomew” as the first among CEO equals. Caan’s individual popularity threatens the corporations and their control of the populace and his ultimate rebellion to the status quo, the alteration of the games to achieve what the corporations want to maintain control (the analogy being the tweaking of society) and ultimately not bowing to the powers-that-be.

Whew! A sci-fi film that’s intelligent, well-acted and directed nearly in a flawless manner by seven-time Oscar nominee Norman Jewison, whose nominations include the simply terrific “A Soldier’s Story” (I’ll forgive him another nomination for “Moonstruck,” which is a sloppy crapfest featuring Cher).

rb2Then, tragedy struck. It was decided to remake “Rollerball” and it was decided that McTiernan would be the director. The first might not have been a bad idea; the second the same; and the result is the definition of putrid.

The movie just eviscerates every intelligent part of the original. Yes, it is about an entertainment-sport called rollerball and yes a player becomes a rebel through his popularity – but that’s about it. It doesn’t have any intellectual value; the cast, with the exception of LL Cool J, should have surrendered their SAG cards because of the insult to our intelligence with their work; and McTiernan should have been made to make an apology to audiences that actually managed to sit through his abomination.

Chris Klein is the star in the remake and he’s “Jonathan Cross.” He’s a hockey player with an extreme bent and is encouraged to become a rollerballer by LL Cool J, who plays “Marcus Ridley.” Ultimately the sport is shown to be crooked and bent to just getting higher ratings (and more money) through manipulation of the “sport.” Klein’s nemesis is Jean Reno as “Alexis Petrovich” (Russians make nice villains here). It all comes to fatal head through the game. Ho-hum. You won’t make the last reel of the film because you’ll be reeling from the nausea it produces.

McTiernan, who knows action as shown in “Die Hard” and “Predator,” could have done so much with the rollerball action scenes, but he even fumbles this into a video game-like montage of action that doesn’t make the sense that the action scenes do in the original.

Heck, even the grinding soundtrack of the remake is annoying and is just so much noise to make you dislike the film even more (if that’s possible). The song with the most apt title on the soundtrack is “Feel So Numb” by Rob Zombie.

So, don’t bother with the remake of “Rollerball.” It makes the rounds of cable movies channels occasionally, but resist whatever little temptation you might have for it. You’ll be better off and not have your intelligence.

Finally, I see the first trailer is out for a remake of “Point Break” (click here for my review). I hope it is at least somewhat competent and as solid as the original. If it’s anything similar to the outcome of remaking “Rollerball,” then there most likely will be a run on barf bags at theaters when it comes out.

As far as its popularity, the original “Rollerball” was just outside the top 10 films of the year in 1975 with $30 million at the box office, according to Wiki. The No. 1 film of the year was the iconic shark film “Jaws” with $260 million, while the No. 10 film was “The Other Side of the Mountain” with $34.6 million, according to Wiki. As for the remake, audiences hated it too: it was the 110th ranked film with $18.9 million. The No. 1 film of 2002 was “Spider-Man” with $403.7 million.

Assorted notes about the two films (via

  • Keanu Reeves was considered for the role of “Jonathan Cross.” I’m not sure which would have been worse – him or Klein, who was one of the stars of the “American Pie” franchise. Neither one is talented enough to elevate the remake in any way. Klein proved it in the film and you just know that Reeves would have fallen just as flat.
  • About the original, directly from “Asked what the movie was about, James Caan reportedly answered, “It’s about 90 minutes.”
  • About the remake and finally and directly from “Due to negative previews, the release date was shifted many times from 18 May 2001, to 13 July 2001, then to 1 August 2001 and to 17 August 2001, and then finally moved off the schedule for the year to February 2002.”

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2015.
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