July 1, 2000 -- There haven't been very many good football movies, "North Dallas 40" and "Any Given Sunday" are among the standout films of the genre, but "The Replacements," based on an NFL strike, isn't bad.
A comedy, the film uses some of the same pranks used in "The Longest Yard," another well-known football movie, such as letting that pesky linebacker through the line so the quarterback can throw the ball at him, yuk, yuk. During the strike, the club also hires replacement cheerleaders (as if they have a union). The cheerleaders, of the exotic dancer variety, do some very raunchy numbers which distract opposing players. It is a stretch to try and out-raunch some real professional cheerleading squads, however. The type of dancing once limited to strip-tease joints has now become commonplace on the sidelines.
Keanu Reeves stars as Shane Falco, a once-promising quarterback haunted by a disastrous outing in a big bowl game. Reeves has the look of a player and he once played an ex-jock in one of his better films, "Point Break." Gene Hackman, who has been in just about every movie since "Gone With the Wind" plays a savvy old coach who thinks he can turn Falco and a bunch of other losers into overnight winners.
Falco and the leader of the cheerleading squad, Annabelle (well-played by Brooke Langton) are working on a romance that is the film's main subplot. There's also a subplot involving an old feud between McGinty and the team's owner, O'Neil (played by veteran actor Jack Warden). There's also a subplot involving bad blood between the replacements and the striking players they replaced. The striking players are portrayed as a bunch of egotistical, overpriced troublemakers who are also petty and cruel. There's certainly no hint that they might have good reasons for striking. It is highly ironic that such an anti-union movie was put together using unionized talent.
Much of the movie's humor misfires, but it turns out that it really isn't as much a comedy as it is a drama. It's message is that you have to make the most of your opportunities. There's a nice speech by McGinty to Falco about the man he is and the man he could become if he could overcome his fears. The movie also makes a point about the good old days in sports, some 40 years ago, when the average sports professional made about the same amount of money as the average working stiff who paid to see him play. That situation made it easier for fans to identify with the players. The replacement players, the movie argues, are like those old-time players who played more for the love of the game rather than just for the money and the notoriety.
In traditional sports movie fashion, the film works its way up to the inevitable Big Game. Many of the players seem quite familiar to those who've seen "The Longest Yard," a maniacal linebacker, a cigarette-smoking, out-of-shape kicker, a deaf wide receiver, a convict running back, a couple of gleeful, huge linemen and an ex-sumo wrestler. You have the usual male bonding stuff when the team unites around its leader.
The football scenes are pretty well staged. The cinematography, editing and stuntwork are all first-rate. Reeves is very good in a difficult role that calls for him to be at times tormented, charming and funny. He does a good job with some good one-liners, his romantic scenes, and his scenes as a guy who has failed once and is afraid he will fail again. Hackman does his usual professional job, hitting all the right notes and Langton is good as the romantic interest. If the comedy had worked as well as the drama, this would be a good film, indeed. As it is, it rates a C+.
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