Directed by Ernest R. Dickinson
Starring Dean Cain, Vanessa Williams, and Wesley Snipes
Futuresport is notable for many reasons, one being that its trailer may be the worst movie trailer at all time.
FOR ONE MAN FOR ONE MOMENT THE WORLD'S IN HIS HANDS. That's a complete sentence with like three extra words thrown in! What a bargain! I'm positive that the person who made this trailer did not see the movie.
Screen Media Pictures, the company that currently holds the rights to Futuresport, have uploaded it to YouTube and graciously allowed us to watch it for free.. Maybe they've seen it! From their video description:
In 2025, Futuresport is the organized sport of the planet. But someone else is getting organized and their game is war. Now superstar athlete Tre Ramazy has more than the weight of his over-inflated ego to carry ?he's in this game fighting on behalf of the world.
Nobody at YouTube bothered to watch it either. Because if they had, they would have taken it down, because there is a female frontal nudity scene in it. (DON'T TELL YOUTUBE.)
Am I the only person in the world to have actually watched Futuresport in its entirety? At the time of its release, this was an all-star cast. Dean Cain! Vanessa Williams! Wesley Snipes! Runnin' around, playin' sports, preventin' the secession of Hawaii (don't worry, we'll get to that), gettin' into mischief! No interest? What the hell, everybody? I cannot think of a premise that possibly could have appealed more to people in the 1990s, save for "Sinbad rollerblades into tornado to salvage valuable pog collection."
So, yes, this movie is set in the year 2025, when Futuresport is the most popular sport in the world. At first, this bothered me, because it would only be a future sport to we lowly present-day people. If the sport currently exists and you are currently playing it, you have no business calling it "Futuresport." Consider this, though: maybe "the future" isn't an abstract concept. Maybe "the future" is literally the year 2025. As in, in the year 2030, we'll be saying, "hey man, remember the future? That ruled."
The chief protagonist is Tre Ramzey (Cain), the greatest Futuresport player in the world. He's also the most famous person in the world, according to his Personality Index rating. (Credit where it's due: though not the first to introduce this general concept, Futuresport was on the money. Personality Index ratings are the future equivalent of Twitter followers, basically. Meanwhile, in the present day, Cain does not have time for a Twitter account; he is busy with such projects as The Dog Who Saved Christmas and The Dog Who Saved Christmas Vacation.)
Before his Futuresport career, Ramzey was the NBA's Rookie of the Year, but the league collapsed around 2015 after a massive point-shaving scandal. Which is a shame, because apparently the NBA had finally decided to move a franchise to the burgeoning Cedar Rapids, Iowa, demographic.
Heads-up, Cedar Rapids: within four years, an NBA franchise will be within your grasp. Those bozos in Davenport won't stop going on about their four Pizza Hut locations, huh? This'll shut 'em up. Plus, it's more like three and a half Pizza Huts because one of them is a joint Pizza Hut/Taco Bell location. Frauds.
Here is what Futuresport -- the sport -- actually looks like. (If YouTube disagrees with the auto-play code, you can see it at starting at about the 18:30 mark.)
The general rules of the game are pretty self-evident here, with the exception of the part when the ball electrocutes the guy. This is called "riding the lightning." If you hold on to the ball for longer than five seconds without passing or shooting, it begins to shock you.
By and large, Futuresport looks like something we could re-create in the present day... with the exception of the hoverboards. Damn it, second-rate futuristic sci-fi writers, what the hell is it with you and hoverboards? And while I have your attention, how do you describe enormous technological/societal leaps, and then somehow forget to set them far enough into the future? Futuresport came out in 1998 and is set in 2025, meaning you gave us 27 years to invent hoverboards, and make all our cities look like Blade Runner and s***,
and adjust societal norms so dramatically that it makes sense to do this to your face,
and build magical hospital rooms that use the power of light or what have you to heal injuries
and have emotionless cyborg-people with video cameras installed in their eye sockets,
and electronic sports cards that athletes "sign" by authenticating a thumbprint rather than actually autographing...
...all right, honestly, that's kind of neato. Regardless, yes, this is a silly movie.
And, look. It's fine for a movie to be silly, simple, and under-explained. It's too much so to be a movie for adults, so it's just a movie for kids, that's all. Except... it's not that, either. Remember, there are naked ladies in the movie. There are also a few completely unnecessary utterings of the f-word, and a couple of homophobic slurs. Futuresport is remarkable in this way. That's why nobody has seen it: because it is a movie for nobody.
Which makes it all the more strange that this film breaks significant ground: you see, Futuresport presents the idea of sports replacing war.
Other works of fiction have come close to this idea. Rollerball, the 1975 film that Futuresport apes in several respects, showed us a world in which sports were meant to crush individualism and satiate our bloodlust along the way. The ToonStars in Space Jam played basketball to stave off invasion from Moron Mountain. Films such as The Running Man and Deadly Prey turned war into a sport.
But none of those involved a complete and unconditional swap of war for sport. In Futuresport, on the other hand, a deal is explicitly brokered: instead of fighting this war to settle this issue, let's play this game. (By the way, I took this question to Twitter. @cdbarker remembered a Rick Reilly piece from over 20 years ago that touched upon the idea. @ZSGhost recalled an episode of Ghostwriter concerning a game called Hyperball. @lonestarball pointed out an episode of Night Court in which it's claimed that on an alien world, disputes are settled by bowling instead of war. There are surely other instances, but those were the only ones we were able to find.)
Granted, this is where Futuresport gets even funnier. The United States has now been incorporated into some sort of giant North American nation (again, you guys, gonna need more than 27 years here), and an Australian super-nation is now trying to claim the Hawaiian Islands as its territory. The sides are prepared to go to war, and through a series of events, it's decided that a game of Futuresport will decide which continent gets to keep Hawaii.
It should be noted that every Hawaiian character in the movie wants to secede, and that the North American United States or what have you has no real moral ground. So Tre's a hero because... he's going to try to deny them liberty, but non-violently? RADICAL!!!
While Futuresport creates the "sports instead of war" experiment through an unbelievably stupid process, I'm happy that it does so in the first place. On my big board of impossible fantasies, this one is near the top, and I think the American sports fan would be well-prepared for it. We already have a lust for competition. Team loyalties, as they currently exist in the sports world, are sort of a preschool equivalent of nationalism, something on which war depends.
And if we were to use sports to settle all matters, nonviolent or otherwise, we could at least understand why things are the way they are. In this world, you can't build this bar here because you haven't acquired the liquor license from both the city and the county, and the county clerk's assistant hasn't reviewed your application because he's on vacation, and this may take six to eight weeks, after which point a municipal ordinance may end up passing that would forbid you from building a bar in this neighborhood anyway. In Futuresport world, you can't build this bar here because Derrick Rose missed a go-ahead three-pointer. The reason is stupid, but at least there is a reason.
It's patently silly and unfair, but this, and (perhaps a little more significantly) the unconditional obsolescence of war, make this impossible fantasy world far better than our own. That, I think, is something we could cheer for.
"Huh? Nah, I don't need to zoom in to avoid revealing that we could only convince 50 or so extras to appear in our movie. Some computer thing will fix it for me. It's THE FUTURE."