Essentially a formula film that telegraphs its next move long before it happens, The Replacements seems unsure of its purpose, meandering between comedy, romance, and inspirational tearjerker. But despite the script's predictability and inconsistency, it delivers a few pleasures.
The film is based on a fictional account of the 1987 pro football season when the professionals went on strike, but the teams continued the season with replacement players.
Ubiquitous character actor Jack Warden plays the Washington Sentinels owner who lures Jimmy McGinty (Gene Hackman) back to coaching the replacement team. McGinty agrees, as long as he can choose the players that he wants that vary from a former SWAT team member, to a drunken Welsh soccer star, to a petty thief, to a convicted felon. But they key to winning football games is the quarterback, which brings us to the box office star.
Keanu Reeves has never been known for great acting ability and isn't required to do much more than stereotypically portray Shane Falco, a promising college quarterback until his miserable failure at the Sugar Bowl (an oft repeated reference). Of course, Falco plays the hero who gets the girl this time around. The director mercifully intercepts Reeves' acting challenges when making his first move on the head cheerleader by mixing in football play-by-play announcers to a heavy soundtrack. Although this gives the desired comic effect, it would be nice to see if Reeves can demonstrate any dormant acting abilities hidden beneath his impassive demeanor. (but, I haven’t seen early rushes, so the director is likely doing the best he can with his material)
While the formula movie throws in that romantic extra with an appealing Brooke Langton (Swingers) and adds some inspirational scenes (a la Rudy), it works best as comedy much like Disney's Cool Runnings. A similar collection of misfits, who even fight among themselves inside the huddle, generate some clever banter from real football announcers Pat Summerall and John Madden. Naturally, the maniacal former SWAT team member Bateman (Jon Favreau) instantly makes the All-Madden team for his animalistic behaviors and bloodiness, while former sumo wrestler played by Ace Yonamine becomes a Madden favorite since he favors “fat” guys.
Paralleling Cool Runnings, the team begins to jell with a barroom fight when Falco leads the team against the professional Sentinel players, who have been egging their bus, turning over Falco’s truck, and belittling the replacements. During the jail scene, the team joins in together with a choreographed version of Gloria Gaynor's “I Will Survive.” Hey, it worked as high comedy with aborigines in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, so what's wrong with a reprise?
The funniest comic bit involves the replacement cheerleaders. That's right, for some unexplained reason most of the original cheerleaders are no longer on the squad during the strike, so Falco's love interest recruits some professional lap dancers for the squad, setting up a hilarious sequence with the visiting team and some funny fan reactions.
The ending is so predictable that I couldn't possibly spoil it, unless you've never seen any sports related movies. From the beginning Hackman challenges Reeves on his character and leadership, so is the ending any big mystery?
Even so, the film has enjoyable aspects--genuinely humorous moments, and the stereotypical good guys even bring a little sentimentality to the smaltzy resolution. The Replacements has no artistic value nor does it teach anything about the 1987 football strike, but it ranks as average light-hearted entertainment.It can expect to be queued up more normal in the coming months with a potential NFL blockout and strike looming on the horizon..