Reviewed by: Douglas Downs
Starring: Chris Klein, LL Cool J, Rebecca Romijn, Jean Reno, Naveen Andrews | Directed by: John McTiernan | Produced by: John McTiernan, Beau St Clair, Charles Roven | Written by: John Pogue, David C. Wilson, Howard Rodman, Larry Ferguson | Distributor: MGM
The year was 1975 and a science-fiction film directed by Norman Jewison presented a futuristic world totally controlled by business corporations. There were no wars and the public got it’s violence fix from a sport called “roller ball.” Roller ball is a violent combination of basketball, ice hockey, and roller skating. In the original film, the lead character (played by James Caan) refused to retire and created a great deal of conflict for a corporate industrialist played by John Houseman. The film was rated “R” solely because of the violence.
2002’s remake, directed by John Mctierman (“Die Hard”, “The Hunt for Red October”) as a sports film or a reasonable commentary on violence is incomprehensible. Here is one of the noisiest and most violent PG-13 films made to date. I was at first stunned by most of the violence in “The Lord of the Rings”, but it’s nothing compared to the non-stop brutality of this flik.
We still have a simple sport with a motorcross twist. But this time team members only have to place the metal ball against a metal dish. The team costumes are as outrageous as the New Orleans Mardi Grass. While the original was a commentary on the way a violent game can be used to dampen the antisocial feelings of the masses during the 21st century, this remake seems to be more about the deadly influence TV ratings can have on sports (especially now that the 21st Century is here).
But let’s also not forget about the unspoken power of g-r-e-e-d. The sport is played in Kazakhstan and Mongolia (Central Asia), but broadcast worldwide to an audience that gambles on the outcome of every game.
The film opens with the best part of this very depressing ride. Jonathan Cross (Chris Klein) is seen riding through the streets of San Francisco on the back of his street luge—an admittedly very thrilling opening. His best friend Marcus Ridley (LL Cool J) invites him to skip his hockey tryouts and get in on the lucrative Roller Ball action (you know—show me the money!). Jonathan joins a team called the Horseman and quickly becomes a star. He also becomes romantically involved with the merciless teammate named Aurora (Rebecca Romijn). But soon the two of them uncover deadly plans hatched by Roller Ball creator (Jean Reno) who hopes to hit the financial jackpot by manipulating the ratings with increased doses of violence. (Would-be-viewers need to know that this film was originally rated “R” and won an appeal with the MPAA.) There was very little editing involved in retooling the ratings to “PG-13”, but much of the violence was redefined as “extreme sports action.”
Our youth today may be dulled from video games and “WWF Smackdown,” but to market this film to teens is extremely irresponsible. The high level of violence almost makes the original look like “PG” fare by comparison. Parents should also know that there is a strong theme of premarital sex (partial nudity included) that takes place in a co-ed lockerroom. The language in the film also pushes the boundaries: 3 uses of the F-word, obscene gestures, and lots of profanity.
Yes, this film could be a look into our future—but it doesn’t take this much imagination to figure that one out. Shame on MGM for this disgusting release with an obscene amount of negatives. My strong recommendation is to skip this one, enjoy the Olympics for now and maybe a little one-on-one with the kids later.