Director: Howard Deutch (Grumpier Old Men)
Vince McKewin (Fly Away Home)
|Stars: Keanu Reeves (Shane Falco), Gene Hackman (Jimmy McGinty), Jack
(O'Neil), Brooke Langton (Annabelle), Jon Favreau (Bateman), Rhys Ifans
(Gruff), Orlando Jones (Franklin), Brett Cullen (Martel), Gailard Sartain
(Pilachowski), David Denman (Murphy)
|Year of Release: 2000
It is clear that screenwriter Vince McKewin ("Fly Away Home") has been
watching his sports movies. His script for "The Replacements" is a
combination of every cinematic sports cliché, from genre classic like
Rockne, All American" (1940), to later comedies like "Major League"
and "Necessary Roughness" (1990). There isn't a single bone of
in its entire 110-minute running time, yet it just almost works out of
force of will. Almost.
The screenplay imagines what would happen if professional football
went on strike over salary disputes and the owners brought in replacement
players to finish out the season (pro players did go strike for several
weeks during the 1982-83 season, but the season was simply shortened to
up for it). The story centers on the fictional Washington Sentinels,
owner brings in a squad of misfits, has-beens, and never-would-have-beens
win three of their last four games so they can go to the playoffs.
This new "scab team" consists of a motley collection of unlikely heroes,
from a sumo wrestler turned offensive guard, to a deaf tight end, to a
couple of hip hop bodyguards who pack pistols and wear as much gold
as Mr. T. The team's kicker is a Welsh soccer player with gambling
(played by Rhys Ifans, who stole every scene in "Notting Hill" playing
Grant's slob of a roommate), and its best defensive player is a psychotic
SWAT team officer (played, in an surprising casting decision, by Jon
Favreau, best known for roles as nervous, unsure guys in films like
"Swingers" and "Very Bad Things").
Coached by the almost-washed-up Jimmy McGinty (Gene Hackman), these
have to learn to come together as a team in a week's time (not to mention
get in shape, learn complex plays, and, for some of them, simply remember
how to play football). An unlikely proposition, but seeing as how the
movie hinges on our accepting it, there's much that can be done if
any hope for enjoyment.
The team is led by quarterback Shane Falco (Keanu Reeves), a one-time
State star who got a reputation of choking at the finish line after his
was destroyed in the Sugar Bowl by 45 points. Now making a living by
scraping barnacles off the hulls of pleasure yachts, Falco is brought
into the fold by McGinty, who sees great potential in him.
Big surprise that Falco learns to reach deep inside himself and lead the
team, thus putting to shame Martel (Brett Cullen), the obnoxious,
Porsche-driving pretty boy of a quarterback he's replacing. Ditto that
team will find itself tested in a big game that will determine whether or
not they make it to the playoffs. And, what would the film be without any
romance, so the screenplay pairs Falco with a football-knowledgeable head
cheerleader named Annabell (Brooke Langton), who, it turns out, happens
be Martel's ex-girlfriend.
The performers all seem game, with Hackman throwing in a few hints of his
unforgettable performance as a volatile Indiana high school basketball
in "Hoosiers" (1985). Keanu Reeves shows a little more life than normal,
his scenes with Brooke Langton actually have some spark. 7-Up pitchman
Orlando Jones also has fun as a jive-talking, super-fast wide receiver
can't catch to save his life.
The game scenes in "The Replacements" work well enough, and the
with which director Howard Deutch ("Grumpier Old Men") stages them brings
mind how ridiculously overblown Oliver Stone's visual style was in "Any
Given Sunday" (1999). Deutch doesn't offer much that is new, but his game
scenes have energy (not to mention lots of music from early '90s relics
EMF and C+C Music Factory). The inclusion of longtime commentators Pat
Summerall and John Madden given the scenes a touch of authenticity,
they don't even begin to compete with Bob Uecker's jaw-droppingly
commentaries in "Major League."
The movie is ostensibly a comedy, although most of the jokes are worn out
the point of death. Apparently, the cheerleads are also on strike, so
Annabell has to put together a new cheering crew, which consists mostly
strippers who display all kinds of new moves on the sidelines (the scene
which they distract the opposing team with their gyrating is stolen
from the '80s high-school football flick "Johnny Be Good"). Scenes like
odd dance sequence in a jail cell to Gloria Gayner's "I Will Survive"
it clear that the film is constantly reaching for
will lift it above its well-worn parts. Unfortunately, it rarely achieves
Overall Rating: (2)