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Gutter Ball

Don’t Waste Your Time; Watch the Olympics

By Brian Loux


Written by William Harrison and Larry Ferguson

Directed by John McTiernan

Starring Chris Klein, Jean Reno, LL Cool J

Rated PG-13

To really comprehend the atrocity of Rollerball, my friend insists that you must see the original movie made in 1975 or read the short story upon which they are both loosely based. “Cult classics” is far too lenient and forgiving a term for the movie’s predecessors. You’d think the series couldn’t sink much lower than that.

Someone should get the camera guy a real job. Some really inventive camerawork, like the foreign news programs for transitions and one scene done in night vision, is completely wasted by the lack of material with which he had to work.

The only admirable aspect of the movie is the use of WWF personalities in the movie (coming from an ardent WWF fan). The use of commentator Paul Heyman as the Rollerball League’s announcer (who is wisely given more screentime than the most of the main characters that cannot act) and the odd two-second shot of Shane McMahon for no apparent reason, are feeble attempts to appeal to the target audience. WWF fans would be wise to stay home and quadruple the night’s entertainment level with an episode of Smackdown.

Ironically, director John McTiernan (Predator) makes the same mistakes that the WWF writers and the movie’s villain Petrovich (Jean Reno, Ronin) make. Here is a game so vicious, so spectacular, so appealing to its audience that those in charge believe it will sell itself. And if it will sell itself, there’s no need to put any effort into the details.

McTiernan decides character development shouldn’t be dealt with. So instead we get a parade of stereotypes. There’s the roguish hometown Boy Scout cowboy (Chris Klein, American Pie), the man who ignores the corruption to feed his family (LL Cool J), the hot chick (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), the soulless capitalist who also controls half the impoverished nations in some “axis of corporate evil,” the brutes on the opposing teams who maim on corporate command but then do an about face when our hero decides to fight the system, and finally the mindless crowd who can instantly see (exactly when the movie needs them to) the depth to which the corporation is controlling and corrupting their lives.

Plot congruity, plot understandability, and finally plot existence follow character development down the toilet. As Heyman says about this sport in the beginning of the movie, “Well, there’s a goal to throw the ball into, and the other rules are in Russian and pages long and they really don’t matter.”

So what about the stuff that McTiernan and Petrovich know you came for? It’s just as sorry as the rest. Petrovich comes to realize that the ratings for his show are deplorable. Maybe that’s because of the way McTiernan makes them the antithesis of both hardcore and fun. Sure, people get hit and ride on motorbikes and rollerblades, but most of the action scenes are mediocre and repetitive, especially slow-motion flying motorcycles. To top it off, the action is so horribly jumbled you can’t even figure out what’s going on. The rest of the in-game scenes are actually just Klein, Stamos, and LL Cool J (who are somehow out of harm’s way) conversing and dragging out an embarrassingly thin plot.

Stamos? Go buy last year’s Sports Illustrated magazine. I guess there was a no-seductiveness clause in the contract, because for most of the movie she looks pale and sickly enough for a Sally Struthers charity infomercial. There is only one very unsexy makeout session with Klein and a few heavily airbrushed shots of her in a dark locker room. For the rest of the movie she poorly plays an angry biker or a helpless damsel, both fully clothed.

Car chases or other action scenes? There really aren’t many, and what is there isn’t memorable except for its ridiculousness. If you can believe a motorcycle carrying our two heros can make it down a steep embankment but an off-road jeep will flip end over end, you deserve to be robbed of nine dollars.

So what do you do when you realize the show isn’t entertaining? Well, for Petrovich the answer is to add real injuries to the show’s repertoire in hopes that the ratings go up and draw the ire of the good guys. But for you, the movie viewer, the answer is to leave the theatre and maybe catch a little Olympic curling for a change of pace.