Rollerball

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It’s a good thing “Rollerball” was pushed back from its original summer 2001 release date. If it had come out then, it would have been lost in a sea of bad movies, indistinguishable from its peers. Coming out now, though, it earns a distinction: The First Unqualified Trainwreck of 2002!

Mercy me, this movie stinks. It is that rare combination of bad writing, bad direction and bad acting — the trifecta of badness. Each element works in concert with the others to produce a truly, truly bad movie, worse than the sum of its parts. It’s synergism at its finest.

The bad writing is by Larry Ferguson and John Pogue, who between them claim credit for screenplays like “Beverly Hills Cop II,” “Highlander,” “The Skulls” and “U.S. Marshals.” (They are working from William Harrison’s short story, on which the vastly superior 1975 “Rollerball” film is also based.) The plot deals with a Russian sport called rollerball, in which participants roller-blade around a rink and attempt to get a metal ball into a hoop. Also, there are motorcycles. Some of the players wear freaky masks. It’s like a crack nightmare version of the XFL, mixed with a bit of hockey and Quidditch. (As the sports commentator says, “The rules are Russian and complicated,” so he just skips them.)

Jonathan Cross (Chris Klein), a promising NHL player, is the newest rollerball recruit, thanks to his buddy Marcus Ridley (LL Cool J). They are disturbed to realize, however, that when things turn violent in the game, the TV ratings go up — which means maybe, just maybe, the ruthless owner Alexi Petrovich (Jean Reno) is rigging it so the violence happens on purpose.

The dialogue is uniformly awkward. The protagonist, clearly not the erudite, scholarly type, uses the word “baubles” in casual conversation. He friend remarks that “we both know cash is king” — the sort of cliché you read in advertising copy, but not in real life.

Adding to this is the bad acting, courtesy of Chris Klein, who is in full Keanu Reeves mode. He’s wooden when he should be excited, and explosive when he should be calm. His character makes no sense — not his words, not his actions, not his motivations. He’s a man who does things because the script tells him to, and for no other reason.

LL Cool J gets his share of hammy moments, too, as does Rebecca Romijn-Stamos as a fellow player and Jonathan’s love interest. But if there were an Oscar for scenery-chewing, Jean Reno would win it, and then they’d retire the category. If his evil Russian businessman character were MEANT to be funny, it would be hysterical.

The director is John McTiernan, who also helmed “Predator,” “Die Hard” and “The Hunt for Red October” — good movies, all. However, he also gave us “The Last Action Hero,” “Medicine Man” and “The 13th Warrior,” so I don’t know what you expected. He filmed “Rollerball” entirely in Confuse-O-Vision, ruining any chance of exciting us with the game scenes because we never have any idea what’s going on. One entire sequence is shot with a green filter on the camera. Why? FOR NO REASON.

Potentially, this movie could have commented on pop-cultural bloodlust and the commercialization of sports. Instead, it is too violent and commercialized. It has no idea what it’s trying to say, and even as escapist entertainment, it can’t even manage one decent action scene.

F (; PG-13.)

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