Mystery DVD Club No 12: Futuresport

In the future wars will no longer exist. Instead there will be this Rollerball rip-off...

Futuresport

Imagine a world where an island society exists, initially independent but one which ultimately, over time, becomes subservient to a controlling state. Imagine that society one day wanting to break free, to become independent once more, and willing to resort to violence and terrorism in order to gain its freedom.

Bloodshed will follow. Thousands, if not millions, will die during the conflict. Politics will muddy the issue. No one wants war, but is there any other way? Can a peaceful solution ever be reached?

Yes! In steps David Beckham and proposes that the two opposing sides play a jolly nice, gun-free game of soccer, with him as captain of one of the teams (he’s one of the ‘good guys’, of course). Whoever wins the match, wins the conflict – and control of the island society sits with the country of the winning team.

In a nutshell, that’s the utterly daft premise of Futuresport, another entry into DOG’s Mystery DVD selections.

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Robert Hewitt Wolfe cut his teeth on Star Trek: The Next Generation before moving over to its sister show, Deep Space Nine. Overall, his contribution (as writer/producer) to the saga of Benjamin Sisko and his gallant crew consisted of a number of generally well-received episodes.

Wolfe then moved on to Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda as co-executive producer. The 4400 and The Twilight Zone also feature on his CV. But when he opened up his laptop one day in 1998 to pen Futuresport with co-writer Steve DeJarnatt, Wolfe must have left his imagination at home.

It was designed to be a pilot for the ABC television network and mercifully it didn’t get beyond this 87-minute piece of drivel.

I imagine at this point that you’re getting the feeling I didn’t enjoy it much? Well, yeah, you’re right. But I guess I’d better justify that at some point.

Where do I start? The plot? Well, the opening paragraph really does sum that up quite well. It involves the North American Alliance (the good guys) against the Hawaiian Liberation Organisation (the bad guys) and the latter’s attempts to reclaim the islands for themselves, but with global repercussions.

It’s 2025, too, which means Los Angeles has an obligation to look not unlike an LA where Replicants and Blade Runners probably hang out [‘homage’ #1]. It’s a future where street gangs have been shown the way forward: don’t fight, play sport instead – namely ‘Future Sport’…a weird combination of basketball and skateboarding in cycle helmets created by a chap called Obike Fixx (Wesley Snipes).

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It’s a sport that doesn’t try hard enough to not to be like Rollerball [‘homage’ #2] or even Pyramid (pop quiz, hot-shots: can you guess the reference?), with a bit of hover-boarding to boot [‘homage’ #3]. Naturally, the sport has a star player too that everyone wants to be like and who everyone else wants to discredit: enter Tre Ramzey, played by the so-wooden-he’s-been-varnished Dean Cain.

Ramzey has a beautiful girlfriend, of course, who dumps him as soon as his Popularity Rating drops while losing sight of what it means to be a team player. He’s also got an ex, in the form of feisty journalist Alex Torres (Vanessa Williams of Ugly Betty, Eraser, DS9), with whom his post-relationship relationship is far from smooth (so guess where they end up together before too long?).

Tre also has a fiery relationship with his own teammates (not helped by the aforementioned desire to be publicly popular) and his own ego alienates himself from their circle.

And then there’s Wesley Snipes (who also acts as exec producer of Futuresport). Ramzey, having been a player for 10 years, has learnt all he knows from Snipes’ Fixx, and Snipes seems to enjoy playing the mentor-style figure, even though he spends much of the time gliding through the show in a ‘look at me. I’m Wesley Snipes’ kind of way while adopting a surprisingly bad Jamaican accent.

So, with the rising conflict between the NAA and HLO and Ramzey’s plunging popularity, what’s Ramzey’s only option? To put together a team for the NAA and save the world!

As Ramzey’s teammates gather around him, convinced he’s only doing this to, indeed, make himself popular again, Torres is kidnapped by HLO terrorists. Cue Ramzey and his colleagues suddenly turning into gun toting, martial arts experts jumping in to save Ramzey’s girl. But what’s this? Who’s that coming out of the shadows alongside the HLO terrorists? Can it be Fixx? Can he really be the coach for the HLO team?

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With Torres saved from the violent terrorists with remarkably little bloodshed, Ramzey and the gang go on to battle the HLO team on the playing field. But soon they find themselves struggling, as their determined opponents push them to failure. But what’s this? Who’s that coming out of the shadows alongside the NAA team substitutes? Can it be Fixx? Can he really have changed sides to now be playing for the NAA?

And can you guess the outcome? Yep, the NAA side wins with seconds to spare. The conflict is over and the world is saved. Oh, and Ramzey is popular again (but honestly, that wasn’t why he was doing all this – really he wasn’t) and has learnt the importance of being a team player once more.

It’s amazing how stuff like this gets commissioned, let alone made. While the quality of the writing isn’t necessarily bad (there are some sparks of -possibly- intentional comedy: “Tre, President Clinton is on the phone.” “Tell Chelsea I’ll call her back.”), I think it’s the way it’s executed.

Cain, fresh from taking off his blue tights, pouts his way around, trying so very hard to be serious but failing successfully. His on-screen relationship with Williams simply doesn’t have any chemistry and if any two actors were mis-cast as a couple, it’s these two. One just doesn’t believe they have any history together, which makes for some painfully clumsy dialogue exchanges.

Directed by Ernest Dickerson (who has a long TV résumé but with nothing that stands out), it looks and feels exactly like a TV pilot. It’s shiny and false (even the darkly-lit street scenes that are meant to portray the gutter of LA’s future society look synthetic) but does have adequate CGI to turn today’s world into, erm, tomorrow.

There’s nothing enticing in this production that makes you want to see any more and I’m at a loss as to how the producers intended this to go beyond a pilot into a full-blown series. It has such a loose plot device (the game of Futuresport itself) that there’s no way it could have sustained any more story than what was here.

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The characters are two-dimensional, no matter how hard the writing tried otherwise, and can only exist in this version of the future (by that I mean the audience surely struggles to relate to them and their apparent conflicts).

To top it all off, Stewart Copeland (late of the outstanding Police) put together such a dreary, plinky-plonky synthesised score that he must have phoned it in. I’m a big admirer of screen music and it’s one of the main things that help me find enjoyment in a production (I’ve been watching all the Harry Potter movies in order recently and Patrick Doyle’s score for The Goblet Of Fire surpasses other efforts – yes, even Mr Williams’ – and takes the movie to different heights in the series for me, just on the score alone).

No, I’m not digressing here, I’m trying to emphasise how important the sound of a production, with regard to a score, adds to the end result. Copeland has done a lot of TV work over the years and uses lots of synthesisers to get there. But his style has never changed and, while it was fine in the mid-80s (The Equalizer, for a start), in the late-90s when Futuresport was made, it dates the production so much that the whole affair becomes cheesy and clichéd before it properly starts.

A shame – because I tried so hard to like it!

The DVD extras only have filmographies of Wesley Snipes, Vanessa Williams and Dean Cain and a truly awful TV spot for the show itself.

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