review by KJ Doughton, 18 August 2000
pretend to be anything more than two hours of simple-minded
escapism, but it’s still a shame that the movie can’t push its
message more passionately. And exactly what is
the message of this second-string gridiron comedy, which continues
the slapstick, sophomoric tradition of sports humor previously mined
in The Waterboy and Major League?
Smothered beneath The
Replacements’ gaggle of puke jokes and dry-humping
cheerleaders is the opinion that the professional sports arena is a
stomping ground for overpaid prima donnas who, in the words of coach
Jimmy McGinty (Gene Hackman), "have no heart."
The corruption of the contemporary
NFL has been tackled before by 1979’s North
Dallas Forty, where players were viewed as pawns to be chewed up
and spit out by an unsympathetic corporate machine far more sinister
than any hulking linebacker. More recently, Oliver Stone’s Any
Given Sunday showed how "old school" coaches were
being taken over by yuppie team owners willing to falsify medical
records to keep crowd-pleasing players on the field. However, The
Replacements abandons the darker, more personal angle of those
films with a juvenile blend of goofball physical humor that owes
more to Police Academy than to Vince Lombardi.
The movie begins in the flurry of
an NFL players’ strike, and Washington Sentinels coach McGinty is
struggling to recruit scab players and stitch together a team of
fill-ins until the strike is resolved. He presents team owner Edward
O’Neill (Jack Warden) with photos and profiles of his choices, and
they’re a motley crew of highly excitable SWAT team psychos,
pistol-packin’, gangsta rappin’ twins, egg-eating sumo
wrestlers, and hell-raising Irishmen. In other words, the usual
cluster of asshole buddies that have shown up in every
"loser-makes-good" raunchfest that’s been green-lighted
since Animal House set the
standard for this profitable hybrid of film. "If nothing
else," says McGinty about this odd assemblage of players,
"they should be fun to watch."
Enter prospective quarterback Shane
Falco (Keanu Reeves), a one-time NFL contender whose career was
buried by a brutal loss during the Sugar Bowl. McGinty offers Falco
a second chance, but the retired player is reluctant. "It’s
quiet here," he says of his current gig on the oceanfront,
where he’s making a living "scraping the crap off the bottom
of someone else’s toy boats." The veteran coach is
persistent, however, eventually wooing Falco onto his team’s new
but not necessarily improved players roster. When Falco asks McGinty
why he’s the coach’s chosen one, he sounds like Reeve’s
reluctant techno-savior Neo from last year’s The Matrix. "I look at you and see two men," replies
Hackman, who wrestles gamely with a lame script. "The man you
are, and the man you ought to be."
Once he signs on, however, Falco
has to contend with the angry rivalry and taunts of original
Sentinels players, who pelt a bus of scab recruits with eggs, and
overturn the new quarterback’s car when it’s parked in the
team’s practice lot. "You’re not even a has-been,"
whines Falco’s on-strike predecessor Eddie Martel (Brett Cullen)
in one of the film’s many uninspired bursts of familiar dialogue.
"You’re a never-was!"
Meanwhile, it’s no stretch to
predict that Falco’s team of misfits will be so incompetent that
when he throws a practice pass, the would-be receiver will collide
with a teammate, Jerry Lewis-style, and miss the catch. His
notorious past is another mark against the young quarterback.
"I lost a ton of money on that Sugar Bowl disaster,"
complains a teammate.
This unpromising debut with The
Sentinels doesn’t bog Falco down so much that he can’t make
goo-goo eyes at the cheerleader captain, Annabelle Farrell (Brooke
Langton). When Farrell isn’t going weak in the knees over her
astro-turf Adonis, she’s forming a ramshackle collection of
cheerleaders (presumably, the original cluster of Sentinels pom-pom
wavers is also on the picket line). A cruel montage presents the
overweight applicants as objects of ridicule, while using the
cleavage-heavy recruits as sluttish rump-shakers. "So, I
understand that you appeared in Cats," remarks Farrell to one voluptuous sex kitten.
"Actually, I appeared at the Pussy Cat," clarifies this
former lap-dancer. It’s not surprising that when The
Replacements runs out of steam or has no place to go, it focuses
on the routines of these lusty lasses in an effort to keep male
viewers from getting bored.
And what is it with reckless
driving as a metaphor for erotic foreplay? Sharon Stone teased
Michael Douglas with this dumb ritual in Basic
Instinct, Crash took it to nauseatingly graphic extremes, and the image was
rekindled in Mission:
Impossible 2. This time around, Farrell gives Falco "a
lift" in her careening jeep, which zigs and zags through heavy
inner-city traffic while the two lovebirds make small talk. Pretty
soon, they’re cozying up in the more rustic confines of her late
father’s bar where Annabelle pours drinks, swapping spit to the
tune of The Police’s "Every Breath You Take."
Replacements runs its familiar course, you can bet that: a.) The
Sentinels will get into a groove and begin winning games; b.) Falco
will run into a crisis when his rival Martel crosses the picket line
and wants to return as quarterback; c.) The one-time pro who blew
his knee out after one NFL game is given a second chance to make a
touchdown; d.) The receiver with the fumbling fingers will catch a
critical pass after his condition is remedied via some
strategically-placed adhesive ("I look like I just jacked off
an elephant," the player complains, his hands dripping with
glue-goo). It all boils down to the Big Pre-Playoff Game, before the
strike is called off and the pros are called back to don their
jerseys. Will the spoiled priss Martel relinquish his title to good
guy Falco? Will Falco’s flame Annabelle stand by her man? Will the
scabs beat the regulars into chopped liver during the obligatory bar
fight? The Replacements
projects these outcomes earlier than John Madden predicting Super
Bowl scores during the first NFL game of the season (both Madden and
Pat Summerall play themselves, as sportscasters narrating the
play-by-play action of each successive game).
Per usual, Reeves struggles through
the film like a valley guy trying to impersonate Harrison Ford. It
wasn’t so long ago that Reeves projected an honest, believable
presence in such films as River’s Edge and Permanent
Record. More recently, however, this hot commodity from The
Matrix has come across as a guy desperately attempting to act.
There’s a strained quality to his delivery that’s made all the
more obvious when he’s set alongside Hackman, arguably the best
American screen actor of the past thirty years. Coach McGinty is no
original, but Hackman is able to enunciate his lines with a
surprising level of conviction, even when he’s slogging through
the most clichéd locker-room pep talks in movie history.
Replacements is a prime
example of what happens during the fall months, after Hollywood has
unleashed its summer moneymakers, but before it’s offered up
holiday-season Oscar fare. As leaves cluster on the ground, mediocre
film fare clutters cineplexes far and wide. There’s another
serious movie out there waiting to be made about the spoils of
corporate sports. But The Replacements deserves to be benched for the season.
Click here to read Cynthia Fuch's interview.