By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: This game gets nasty.
In the not so distant future where no governments or countries exist and corporations control everything a new type of game becomes the rage. It features two teams on roller blades skating around a circular rink while fighting over a silver hand sized ball, which they use to throw into an electronic type of basket and score points. The game features little officiating and can usually cause injury or even death to the players, but one man named Jonathan E. (James Caan) has risen to the top and become a superstar in the sport. Bartholomew (John Houseman) who is the head of the conglomeration doesn’t like this because the idea of the games is to thwart individuality and not promote it. They push Jonathan to retire, but he refuses forcing the games to become even more violent as their way to get rid of him one way or the other, but the more they try to take him down the more he fights back.
The thing I really liked about William Harrison’s script, which is based on a short story of his called ‘Roller Ball Murder’ is how amazingly prophetic it is. Corporations and their rich lobbyists are pulling the strings of the government officials already making them seem as mere puppets and modern day suburbia much like in the movie is really only a tranquilizer with its comfy lifestyle used to lull everyone into overlooking the many concessions that come with it. The violent games for both the players and fans acts as an escape from their otherwise sterile existence as the outcomes are the only things not already preordained by the corporations and thus giving the players a small sense of control over something.
Unfortunately the film’s set design is not as intuitive as its story and lacks imagination and even seems quite dated. There are no personal computers and the ones that do get shown are quite archaic looking. I have not seen the 2002 version, but this reason alone justifies a remake although the scene where the party guests go outside to play with a ray gun is a keeper.
The game itself isn’t all that interesting and to me came off as a glorified version of roller derby. I thought it should’ve been more graphic and bloody and the film pulls back when it should instead capture the true brutally of the sport. It does get a little more violent as it goes on and I did enjoy the surreal quality of the film’s climatic game where players from both sides end up either killed or severely injured. The segment showing the men preparing for a game by having the Caan character giving pointers to the new players on some of the strategy that is needed helped convey the idea that the sport had a certain technique to it and not simply rollerblading around a rink.
Caan is adequate in the lead, but is upstaged by John Beck as his playing partner as well as Shane Rimmer who plays his coach. It’s great to see John Houseman in his second feature film after his Academy Award winning performance in The Paper Chase, but his close-ups where ill-advised as it made me notice all of his nose hairs and director Norman Jewison should’ve either avoided framing his face from that angle or giving the elderly actor a pair of tweezers to pull them out.
The ending is unsatisfying as it leaves everything on a vague note. We see the fans cheering Jonathan’s moxie, but there is no indication as whether he was able to ultimately stage a revolt, or whether the corporate heads found some other way to get rid of him. In either case I wanted more of a conclusion and the fact that there isn’t any makes it feel like a great concept that wasn’t fully realized.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: June 25, 1975
Runtime: 2Hours 4Minutes
Director: Norman Jewison
Studio: United Artists
Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video