By Ken Tucker
Updated March 02, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST
XFL: Bill Kostroun:AP/Wide World

In my dream, John Belushi is still alive. He’s also still shooting speedballs, and his periodic attempts at detoxing are giving Robert Downey Jr. some breathing room in the tabloids. Belushi uses, he quits, he goes on a diet and pumps up, then resumes his worst excesses. All this has cost him his movie career, but in my dream, his old friend Lorne Michaels lets him rejoin the cast of ”Saturday Night Live.” However, all the young fans weaned on Comedy Central’s ”SNL” reruns want only to see his old characters — the samurai guy, the ”cheeseburger” guy.

Belushi, frustrated and depressed, starts drugging himself again. ”I’m too old for this nonsense,” says Michaels when Belushi is fired. So the actor goes to the one place on NBC where he’ll be welcome: the XFL. Belushi reverts to ”Animal House” vulgarity, joins the New York / New Jersey Hitmen, uses the name ”Bluto” on his jersey, and decks announcer / governor Jesse Ventura during his first postgame interview. (Belushi’s defense? ”Here’s your smash mouth, you government toady!”) The new football league’s heretofore sagging ratings skyrocket. The comedian finds new fame and marries a Los Angeles Xtreme cheerleader named Tammy. He’s hooked and happy.

In real life, of course, it is not so. The XFL is a joke worse than any Belushi ever muttered in the ’80 stinko film ”Continental Divide.” The games are unwatchable — tedious slogs toward, say, a 6 – 6 halftime score while an announcer yells, ”We got us a barn burner here!” And indeed, few are watching. Ratings plummet each week. Mastermind Vince McMahon doesn’t seem to realize that much of the drama that made his wrestling shows hits is created by the expressions of rage we see on the protagonists’ faces, and football helmets mask that televisual necessity. The most passion the XFL has stirred thus far is when its Feb. 10 broadcast pushed that week’s Jennifer Lopez hosted ”SNL” back about 45 minutes, and executive producer Michaels reportedly went through the roof.