'Replacements' has smarts, heart
by Craig Kopp
There are really no new plays in the football comedy "The Replacements." But unique characters and heart make it a better watch than most pre-season NFL games.
Loosely based on the 1987 NFL players' strike and the replacement players who finished out the season, "The Replacements" may not capture the reality of a professional football team made up of also-rans, but it definitely catches the spirit of that unique moment in sports.
Anybody who witnessed the likes of Boomer Esiason on the picket lines, sitting in front of the buses bringing in the replacements, will quickly remember the absurdity of the situation - and realize why it was inspiration for a movie.
Why it took so long for such a movie to be made I don't know, but this one was made with enough smarts to make it worthwhile.
Jimmy McGinty, the maverick coach, is played by Gene Hackman. McGinty is called in to put together a team that might be able to preserve the playoff chances of the mythical Washington Sentinels. he does that by calling up guys who almost, but not quite, made it to the big time. His thinking is that these guys got so close to tasting pro-football glory that they'll be hungrier than their opponents when they get this last chance.
His quarterback is a bold call - Keanu Reeves. But Reeves sounds all the right notes - even if he's a little too valley guy at times - as Shane Falco, the rocket arm who gave up the game after a disastrous Sugar Bowl loss when he was playing for Ohio State. Reeves plays the gun-shy quarterback with just the right amount of bravado, humbleness and fear.
Rounding out "The Replacements" is a bunch of oddballs to whom we spend the first third of the film being introduced. There's a borderline-psychotic SWAT cop (Job Favreau), a drunken, chain-smoking kicker (Rhys Ifans of "Notting Hill" fame), a couple of gun-toting music-biz bodyguards (Michael Taliferro, Faizon Love), a lightning-quick receiver with stones for hands (Orlando Jones) and a sumo wrestler (Ace Yonamine).
These guys are all one-note jokes at first. But, when they get into a big bar fight with the regular players, the team, and the film, comes together.
Even the cheerleading squad gets its act together, by drafting a bunch of local lap-dancers. They come up with cheers even John Madden can't diagram.
And, yes, Madden and booth buddy Pat Summeral do play themselves in "The Replacements," and only some of the time do they sound as if they read their lines in just one take. They provide a play-by-play they've never done before - of a makeout session between Reeves and the head of the replacement cheerleaders, Annabelle (Brooke Langton). It's just stupid enough to work.
And "The Replacements" is just simple enough to work. When you boil it down to players who really appreciate their chance to play in the pros vs. players who have forgotten how cool their jobs are, you can't help rooting for these "Replacements," no matter how stereotypical they may be.