Rated PG-13, 114 min. Directed by Howard Deutch. Starring Jack Warden, Ace Yonamine, Brett Cullen, Rhys Ifans, Orlando Jones, Jon Favreau, Jack Warden, Brooke Langton, Gene Hackman, Keanu Reeves.
Everybody loves underdogs. Their stories inspire timeless tales, those of individuals who defy the odds, break all barriers, and become immortal -- if only for a moment. Usually the hero is some apple-cheeked family-values kid (think Rudy). But the underdogs here (the replacements, brought in to finish the season for NFL players on strike) are of an entirely different breed. When Coach McGinty (Hackman) is given the daunting task of assembling a makeshift ball team to finish out the final four games of the regular season, he plumbs from the kind of depths that would eat Rudy alive and send that perky bobsled team scampering back to Jamaica. The replacement squad proudly boasts a mad-dog Persian Gulf vet, a convict (released to Hackman's custody for the duration of the season), a former sumo wrestler, and a twin set of gangsta thugs. In short, it's a collection of has-beens, never-weres, and not-a-chance-in-hells. And that's what makes The Replacements so much fun. It's Major League for the pigskin set, only Charlie Sheen got traded for (gulp) Keanu Reeves. Reeves, as Shane Falco, the Quarterback Who Chokes, is his usual blank-faced self, though there mercifully isn't a “whoa” in sight. But The Replacements is his picture in billing alone. The movie belongs to his rag-tag team of reprobates. Each is given his moment to shine, and shine they all do in their own deviant ways. 7-Up ad man Orlando Jones improves on the undeniable charm of his 7-Up/Up Yours smarm as a tight end who can run like the wind but can't catch to save his life. And Jon Favreau (best known as the likable sad sack from Swingers and Friends) is almost unrecognizable as the sic-dog, SWAT-team-terror Bateman. All Coach has to do is instruct Bateman to get the ball, and Bateman -- part Tasmanian devil, part Doberman -- streaks off, screaming “Ball! Ball!” and foaming at the mouth. They're all a little rough around the edges, but they're united in a love of the game and the knowledge that, as substitutes, there is no future of shoe deals and guest spots on The Tonight Show. Like any self-respecting sports pic, The Replacements is heavy on game footage (and the obligatory shots of gyrating cheerleaders). The football scenes are actually quite gripping (the movie was filmed by cinematographer Tak Fujimoto), even for someone as completely disinterested in that Neanderthal sport as this reviewer. The Replacements is as obvious as they get, and it wears its message on its bloodied jersey: Pro sports have lost their heart, and these guys are here to get the NFL's cardiovascular system pumping again. Resuscitate it they do, and have a riotous good time on the way. Maybe the NFL could take a few pointers from The Replacements -- fewer product endorsements, more sumo wrestlers who just want to win one for the team. Hell, even I'd watch that.
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