Replacements has fun with old formula
If the pint-sized ragamuffins from The Little Giants grew up and still wanted to play football, they’d be the mismatched rejects of The Replacements. Only the sizes of the players have changed - otherwise, The Replacements is just another Bad News Bears, The Mighty Ducks or The Big Green.
The most unlikely collection of wannabe athletes is whipped into shape by a coach who has seen better days.
And against these odds, this motley crew not only challenges but defeats the best team in the league.
This scenario worked for baseball players in Major League and hockey players in Mystery, Alaska - and here it comes again using football players in The Replacements.
It’s just a few games away from the playoffs when the gridiron stars of the Washington Sentinels go on strike for higher wages. Instead of caving in to their demands, owner Edward O’Neil (Jack Warner) decides to call their bluff.
He goes to his old friend and former Sentinels’ coach Jimmy McGinty (Gene Hackman) and asks him to put a new team together and have them ready in one week.
Jimmy assembles a team that makes the recruits in Police Academy look promising.
There’s a sumo wrestler (Ace Yonamine), deaf college star (David Denman), a Welsh soccer player (Rhys Ifans), an inmate of the local prison (Michael Jace), an over-zealous SWAT team commando (Jon Favreau), a sprinter (Orlando Jones) and a pair of hulking bodyguards (Faizon Love and Michael Taliferro).
McGinty considers each of these men a secret weapon just waiting to be unleashed.
The glue he needs to bind them into a team is Shane Falco (Keanu Reeves), a once-promising quarterback who made one big mistake that cost him his career.
There are some great belly-laughs during the initial training scenes as the players attack one another on and off the field. They quickly turn their aggressions on the striking professional players and end up in jail for what proves to be one of the biggest laughs in the film.
Jones leads the other actors in a hilarious kick-line version of the Gloria Gaynor disco classic I Will Survive.
It’s such a great moment that it’s repeated during the closing credits.
Director Howard Deutch allows each of the supporting actors a moment in the spotlight, wisely delegating more time to Jones and Ifans, who are great slapstick comedians.
Hackman glides effortlessly through his role, bringing weight and credibility to a film that is pure sports fantasy.
There’s even a cheerleading squad comprised of lap dancers and strippers.
Falco was a wise choice for Reeves.
It’s a predominantly physical role and Reeves is definitely up to the demands.
He looks like a quarterback and the film doesn’t require Falco to do much talking, so Reeves doesn’t break the illusion too often.
He broods a great deal and when he woos the head cheerleader (Brooke Langton), it’s more with glances than words.
Like the substitute Sentinels, The Replacements scores, winning points against incredible odds.
It gets laughs and cheers from tired, cliched material because it plays safe.
It’s not trying to be as good as The Longest Yard, but just another Major League.
That’s The Replacements’ secret weapon and it pays off nicely.