Trolling Rollerball

I caught a part of the 2002 remake of Rollerball on TV last night.

I saw the movie for the first time in the summer of 2000 (I think; it may have been 2001), at a free screening at my local movie theater. It sucked. Chris Klein stars as a total moron who gets involved in some stupid human-bloodsport run by indistinct criminals in a post-Soviet hellscape, then somehow it all goes wrong.

After it mercifully ended, my girlfriend and I were asked to be part of a focus group to discuss the movie. We were offered $10 each to do it, and we were both happy for the opportunity to let the people responsible for Rollerball know exactly how we felt about Rollerball.

When we joined the group — maybe 15-20 people spread out across the front two rows of the theater — it became pretty obvious that the people chosen to discuss the movie did not represent a cross-section of movie-goers but were selected by demographic. It was almost all sets of two, and no two sets were of the same race and general age. My girlfriend and I were apparently there representing 18-25 year-old white people.

It turned out it didn’t much matter, since all races, ages and creeds could bond together and agree that Rollerball was a terrible movie. The marketing people asked us a series of questions: What did you think of the cast? What did you think of the plot? What did you think of the action?

Every time, nearly the entire group responded angrily. It actually got so heated I started to feel bad for the marketing folks, since presumably they had nothing to do with the actual production of Rollerball. And no matter what they asked, they got yelled at by basically every member of the focus group.

Except one guy, the reason I bring this all up today. I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but looking back on it now I think he might have been a brilliant real-life troll capitalizing on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The man was in the focus group to represent black guys from 25-34, which is to say he was a black guy somewhere between the ages of 25 and 34. There’s no way he enjoyed Rollerball; he seemed like a reasonable fellow. But I assume he must have recognized his chance to speak for men of his age and race as a chance to mess with the marketing arm of a big Hollywood studio.

Amid the outrage of those around him, this guy calmly and politely framed every one of his answers to emphasize how much he enjoyed LL Cool J’s work in Rollerball. 

“What did you think of the cast in this movie?” “It was good. I really liked LL Cool J; I thought there could have been more of his character.”

“What did you think of the ending?” (SPOILER ALERT!!) “I didn’t like the part when LL Cool J dies. LL ain’t going out like that.”

“What did you think of the soundtrack to this movie?” “I thought there should have been more LL.”

And on like that. He answered every question with a straight face, earnest expression and calm explanation of the ways the movie could have been improved if it better exploited the talents of LL Cool J.

Sadly for that guy, in the version of Rollerball that finally came out some two years after that focus group, LL Cool J (SPOILER ALERT!) still went out like that. But not for lack of a heroic trolling effort, which we salute today.

And not for nothing, the movie probably would have been a lot better with more LL Cool J throughout. Exhibit A: Deep Blue Sea.

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