starring Keanu Reeves, Gene Hackman, Brooke Langton, Jack Warden
screenplay by Vincent McKewin
directed by Howard Deutch
by Bill Chambers Did the makers of The Replacements realize that Major League had already been reinvented as a football movie, under the title Necessary Roughness? (So indiscreetly, in fact, that the former's sunglasses-wearing baseball logo was transmogrified into a sunglasses-wearing football one.) Given how many other motion pictures The Replacements--which, for what it's worth, appears to have been edited with a blender--openly (and badly) plagiarizes, I'm sure the answer is "yes." "But," they'd very possibly tell you, "our movie has Keanu Reeves and Gene Hackman. Theirs had Sinbad and Kathy Ireland."
"But," I'd very possibly reply, "your movie is from the director of The Great Outdoors, theirs The Man with One Red Shoe." Really, Reeves and Hackman are nothing more than advertising hooks. I never thought I'd find myself writing that Reeves is too interesting for a role, but Shane Falco is a character whose sole defining trait is his non-sports-related job of scraping the barnacles off docked boats. When he leaves this task, to fill in for the Washington Sentinels' picketing quarterback (also white, natch), it seems to straitjacket the actor. Falco observes the law of comedy screenwriting that says the leading man, unless a former stand-up, shalt not be granted the same funny dialogue and wacky affectations of his co-stars, because he already got all the looks.
This maxim is also common to producer Jerry Bruckheimer's schlocky actioners, which may as well be official comedies. (See: Nicolas Cage in this summer's Gone in 60 Seconds.) I searched for his name in The Replacements' closing credits and was shocked by its absence: the film's requisite recruiting montage, once a staple of the sports genre and since co-opted by Bruckheimer, could be substituted with that of Armageddon and few outside the know would catch the switcheroo.
As the retired football coach returning to the field during a player's strike on a lost coin toss, Hackman handpicks the substitute team in a scene replete with headshots that could just as easily have been a documentary of the casting process. He rounds up, in no special order: a Sumo wrestler (Ace Yonamine); an aggro SWAT cop (Swingers' Jon Favreau, discovering his inner--and outer--ham); a gentle deaf guy (David Denman); a college-football star (Keanu); a Welsh soccer pro (Notting Hill's Rhys Ifans); an ordained minister (Troy Winbush); a grumpy ex-con (Michael Jace); twin former bodyguards of Ol' Dirty Bastard (Faizon Love and Michael "Bear" Taliferro); and, oui but of course, a Gloria Gaynor-loving sprinter (wiry Orlando Jones). These bad news bores are all but told at gunpoint to win two out of three games. That they'll manage this, albeit with 'side-splitting' difficulty, is presumed (why break formula in the climax, of all places?). Ergo, after they lost their first match, I wondered why a theatre should bother projecting the remaining reels at all.
It's not as if The Replacements is entertaining enough to transcend the inevitable, unless your idea of fun is not one but three prostitutions of Gaynor's "I Will Survive," or a nervous vomit sequence (if you saw Any Given Sunday, what you're now experiencing is called déjà vu). The jokes are fusty and/or unpleasant--the filmmakers solicit the kind of superior laughter you hear from the "Jerry Springer" audience whenever anyone who isn't a toothpick asks to be regarded as a sexual being. (The Replacements, in other words, loves fat jokes.) Other golden oldies include the love interest (Brooke Langton, almost gorgeous enough to salvage her scenes) who drives so recklessly it scares Falco, a note-for-note update of a much wittier aside from Annie Hall.
The Replacements also wears its moral heart on the wrong sleeve. For starters, it's about scabs! All the feel-good deaf-guy-finally-getting-a-chance stuff doesn't change this. Plus we learn that football is for heroes, but cheerleading is a hobby--the head of the squad must also toil in a more honest trade as a barkeep at her deceased father's establishment, which lets the professional barnacle-scraper know there's a little dirt under those manicured fingernails, I guess. But back to the scab thing: While it's bad enough that our modern gladiators--slaves of the entertainment-industrial complex by any other name--are reduced to "spoiled multimillionaires" (screenwriter Vincent McKewin's term for striking athletes), I'm especially not keen on the idea of a big studio using Ted and Lex Luthor to lure a young, dumb, and full of come target audience to a feel-good celebration of union-busting.