The Replacements

The Replacements
Director: Howard Deutch (Grumpier Old Men)
Screenplay:Vince McKewin (Fly Away Home)
Stars: Keanu Reeves (Shane Falco), Gene Hackman (Jimmy McGinty), JackWarden(O'Neil), Brooke Langton (Annabelle), Jon Favreau (Bateman), Rhys Ifans(Gruff), Orlando Jones (Franklin), Brett Cullen (Martel), Gailard Sartain(Pilachowski), David Denman (Murphy)
MPAA Rating:PG-13
Year of Release: 2000
Country: USA

It is clear that screenwriter Vince McKewin ("Fly Away Home") has beenwatching his sports movies. His script for "The Replacements" is acombination of every cinematic sports cliché, from genre classic like"KnuteRockne, All American" (1940), to later comedies like "Major League"(1988)and "Necessary Roughness" (1990). There isn't a single bone oforiginalityin its entire 110-minute running time, yet it just almost works out ofsheerforce of will. Almost.

The screenplay imagines what would happen if professional footballplayerswent on strike over salary disputes and the owners brought in replacementplayers to finish out the season (pro players did go strike for severalweeks during the 1982-83 season, but the season was simply shortened tomakeup for it). The story centers on the fictional Washington Sentinels,whoseowner brings in a squad of misfits, has-beens, and never-would-have-beenstowin 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 acouple of hip hop bodyguards who pack pistols and wear as much goldjewelryas Mr. T. The team's kicker is a Welsh soccer player with gamblingproblems(played by Rhys Ifans, who stole every scene in "Notting Hill" playingHughGrant's slob of a roommate), and its best defensive player is a psychoticSWAT team officer (played, in an surprising casting decision, by JonFavreau, 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), thesemisfitshave to learn to come together as a team in a week's time (not to mentionget in shape, learn complex plays, and, for some of them, simply rememberhow to play football). An unlikely proposition, but seeing as how theentiremovie hinges on our accepting it, there's much that can be done ifthere'sany hope for enjoyment.

The team is led by quarterback Shane Falco (Keanu Reeves), a one-timeOhioState star who got a reputation of choking at the finish line after histeamwas destroyed in the Sugar Bowl by 45 points. Now making a living byscraping barnacles off the hulls of pleasure yachts, Falco is broughtbackinto the fold by McGinty, who sees great potential in him.

Big surprise that Falco learns to reach deep inside himself and lead theteam, thus putting to shame Martel (Brett Cullen), the obnoxious,Porsche-driving pretty boy of a quarterback he's replacing. Ditto thattheteam will find itself tested in a big game that will determine whether ornot they make it to the playoffs. And, what would the film be without anyromance, so the screenplay pairs Falco with a football-knowledgeable headcheerleader named Annabell (Brooke Langton), who, it turns out, happenstobe Martel's ex-girlfriend.

The performers all seem game, with Hackman throwing in a few hints of hisunforgettable performance as a volatile Indiana high school basketballcoachin "Hoosiers" (1985). Keanu Reeves shows a little more life than normal,andhis scenes with Brooke Langton actually have some spark. 7-Up pitchmanOrlando Jones also has fun as a jive-talking, super-fast wide receiverwhocan't catch to save his life.

The game scenes in "The Replacements" work well enough, and thesimplicitywith which director Howard Deutch ("Grumpier Old Men") stages them bringstomind how ridiculously overblown Oliver Stone's visual style was in "AnyGiven Sunday" (1999). Deutch doesn't offer much that is new, but his gamescenes have energy (not to mention lots of music from early '90s relicslikeEMF and C+C Music Factory). The inclusion of longtime commentators PatSummerall and John Madden given the scenes a touch of authenticity,althoughthey don't even begin to compete with Bob Uecker's jaw-droppinglyhilariouscommentaries in "Major League."

The movie is ostensibly a comedy, although most of the jokes are worn outtothe point of death. Apparently, the cheerleads are also on strike, soAnnabell has to put together a new cheering crew, which consists mostlyofstrippers who display all kinds of new moves on the sidelines (the sceneinwhich they distract the opposing team with their gyrating is stolendirectlyfrom the '80s high-school football flick "Johnny Be Good"). Scenes liketheodd dance sequence in a jail cell to Gloria Gayner's "I Will Survive"makeit clear that the film is constantly reaching forsomething--anything--thatwill lift it above its well-worn parts. Unfortunately, it rarely achieveslift-off.

©2000 James Kendrick

Overall Rating: (2)

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