Deja Vidiot: Rollerball Is Hollywood’s Saltine Cracker

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This week, I revisited a movie I enjoyed as a kid, roughly remembering 1984’s The Last Starfighter as a sort of “Star Wars meets Tron.” While that’s an astute comparison to draw given its release date (seven years after Star Wars, only two after Tron), the effects and storyline were just so hokey that I found less science-fiction enjoyment and far more laughs this time around.

Starring then-24-year-old TV vet Lance Guest (who is one-third of a bizarre trio of lookalike actors—Guest, William Ragsdale and Rob Morrow), The Last Starfighter sees young Alex Rogan register the high score on his trailer park’s lone video game machine. Shortly thereafter, he’s recruited by humanoid alien Centauri (Robert Preston, The Music Man) to join a real-life outer space battle that the game is based on.

I’m certain this could still be fun for kids 10-and-under, but adults viewing it for the first time aren’t going to be impressed. (Ask my wife.)

Coincidentally, I followed up my trip down memory lane the following night with a film recorded off The Movie Channel. I’d never seen either the original, 1975 version (starring James Caan) or the 2002 remake of Rollerball, starring Chris Klein, LL Cool J and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos). I knew the new one had received rotten reviews, but I thought, “Hey, how bad could it be?” Besides, as a devoted Vidiot (the Devotiot?), I love to support overlooked fare.

And yet, if thinking I would like Starfighter was akin to making a wrong turn, then imagining I would enjoy Rollerball was like driving my car off a cliff, hitting every rocky ledge on the way down and ending in flaming heap at the bottom (while a violin plays sadly in the background).

In case I wasn’t clear just then, Rollerball is terrifically awful. It's overacted, poorly scripted and hopelessly dependent on fancy cars, cheesy costuming and quick camera work. I barely made it half-way through.

Oddly enough, after only brief exposure to Rollerball, I couldn’t help but notice how much better The Last Starfighter was by comparison. In fact, I may have incidentally spawned a new movement (if only for myself). Like eating saltine crackers between wine tastings or sniffing coffee beans between smelling perfumes, Rollerball is a great palate cleanser.

Today’s takeaway? Every movie is a good movie after watching Rollerball. And if there is a film you want to receive a favorable review—by either a friend or a critic—do what you can to get him to watch the John McTiernan stinker first. Anything seen immediately thereafter will appear Oscar-worthy.