Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:58 - Released 8/11/00

It's amazing to me how consistently predictable sports comedies are. Everyone knows how a film like The Replacements is going to turn out after the first five minutes, just like we know it for Major League or The Mighty Ducks. Even Oliver Stone's self-indulgent football opera of last year, Any Given Sunday, was predictable, and it took itself much more seriously than this. The Replacements, written by Vince McKewin (Fly Away Home) and directed by Howard Deutch (Grumpier Old Men), definitely does not take itself seriously; in fact it seems to suffer from a conflict in tone. While quarterback Keanu Reeves and coach Gene Hackman see themselves in a serious drama about second chances, most of the supporting cast, under Deutch's orders, are going for the kind of silly comedy we saw in a hundred Burt Reynolds films in the '70s (like The Longest Yard, for instance). Still, for some reason, we watch, we root, we cheer, we get excited for the team. It's fluff, but it's watchable fluff.

In this year's underdog-team-makes-good story, the premise stems from a situation all too familiar in pro sports: a players' strike. When the nation's pro players suspend the season, demanding an increase in their $5 million salary cap, Washington Sentinels owner O'Neill (Jack Warden) seeks out his old coaching buddy Jimmy McGinty (Hackman) to organize a team of replacement players to finish the season. If the team wins three of its remaining four games, it goes to the playoffs. Jimmy agrees under the conditions that he be allowed total control and that he gets to choose the players.

His first choice is Shane "Footsteps" Falco (Reeves), a promising college QB who choked in the last minute of the Sugar Bowl in 1987 and has since disappeared. In addition to Falco, Jimmy recruits a motley crew of supporting players, including a former Navy Seal who tackles anything he sees, especially if it's wearing red (Jon Favreau), a Welsh soccer star kicker (Rhys Ifans), a runner who can't catch (Orlando Jones), a receiver who can't hear (David Denman), and a couple of phat gangstas (Faizon Love, Michael Taliferro) and a Japanese sumo wrestler (Ace Yonamine) as linemen. Meanwhile, the Sentinels' head cheerleader and Reeves's love interest (Brooke Langton, Melrose Place) recruits a bunch of strippers (is the cheerleaders' union on strike too?), whose style substitutes raw sex appeal for team spirit.

The first time we see Keanu Reeves, he is just getting up, yawning, looking like he had a particularly hard night. The trouble is, he acts that way for the duration of the film. Attempting to endow his character with a sullen determination, he simply looks like he's not had enough sleep. Hackman is adequate as always, superior to the material, really. As the team struggles through its final four regular season games, each with a predictable outcome, its members grow, develop cameraderie, engage in various hijinks, have altercations with the striking pro players (led by Brett Cullen as the cocky quarterback), and eventually, inevitably, become a team. In between the game sequences, which feature not only the playing but generous doses of the cheerleaders' R-rated cheering, there is the romance between Reeves and Langton. Although she carries a sweet simple sexiness about her, Reeves is unable to make much of a spark.

Guest appearances by Pat Summerall and John Madden, as themselves, lend a touch of authenticity to this romp, but The Replacements is mainly just boys-will-be-boys silliness set to the strains of Gloria Gaynor's popular-of-late movie anthem "I Will Survive." ***½

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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