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Rollerball (2002)

2002's remake of Rollerball joins the ranks of Supernova and Soul Survivors (and possibly the original Star Wars trilogy of it ever comes out) as films that cannot be seen as they were originally released in the theaters on DVD. But unlike Lucas's trilogy — where fans are already anticipating not getting their original releases — it's easier to get away with such a release if no one cares, and here no one does. In fact, this Rollerball may be most famous for the punishing review Ain't-it-Cool's Harry Knowles gave it in pre-release; it was such a thrashing that MGM scuttled the release date from summer of 2001 to February of 2002 and added more re-shoots to an already troubled production. Eventually the violence- and nudity-heavy picture was shorn to a near incoherent PG-13 and was DOA upon release. Though it would make for an epic behind-the-scenes book, this DVD leaves its history scarcely acknowledged, although it gives the film a new cut with this R-rated version. Chris Klein stars as Jonathan Cross, a great athlete with a quick temper whose friend Ridley (LL Cool J) entices him to come to Asia to work as a Rollerballer after he gets in trouble with the law. The sport has become popular in the poorer parts of the world, but team owner Petrovich (Jean Reno) wants to take the sport worldwide, and once Cross joins up, he becomes the star player of the league. Living the high life, Cross gets sidetracked when he discovers that the owners have been setting up the lesser players to suffer violent acts to boost the ratings. As Cross tries to get to the bottom of it, he doesn't realize how vulnerable he is since he's got a good friend in Ridley and has been dating fellow player Aurora (Rebecca Romjin-Stamos). The absurdity of some plot points is hard to stomach: The film suggests there is a global rating system that surges when someone gets badly hurt, yet how would audiences know to turn the channel for such an accident? And how readily is the world going to accept a new sport — didn't "American Gladiators" and the XFL teach us anything? A middle section features a nonsensical sequence shot in night-goggle-green vision, and star Klein has yet to show he can play much more than honest but not too bright. But the film isn't as ass-cringingly bad as it looks, and it provides passable action entertainment. There have been numerous cuts of the movie (supposedly, the singer Pink had more to do in some edits of the film), making MGM's DVD something of a missed opportunity — though the new R-rated cut included here is preferable to the theatrical release. Presented in both anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) and pan-and-scan with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, Rollerball also includes a commentary by Klein, Romjin-Stamos, and LL Cool J (who is the most insipid commentator this reviewer has ever heard), a 20-minute stunts featurette, a Rollerball scrapbook for the fiction sport, trailers for this and other MGM films, and a Rob Zombie music video. Keep-case.

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