When future civilizations look back to study the nadir that is this year’s barren crop of movies, The
Replacements will deserve particular scrutiny and scorn. It’s a shabby patchwork of a film, one that lip-synchs its way through an old and timeworn situation without any attempt to add something new or interesting.
Very loosely based on the 1987 NFL players strike, The Replacements follows the mythical Washington Sentinels’ attempts to finish out the regular season after their entire league has staged a walkout. There are four games left in the season and the Sentinels need to win three of them to make the playoffs. The team’s owner (Jack Warden) reaches back to hire his pal and washed up old-school coach Jimmy McGinty (Gene Hackman). It’s his job to scour the waiver wires and rehab centers for enough warm bodies to field a team and win.
The film wastes little time donning its Rocky costume – we’re immediately plunged into player tryouts where the has-been and never-was compete for their temporary shots at stardom. The player that Coach McGinty wants to land most is Shane Falco (Keanu Reeves). He’s a former Ohio State All-American who was traumatized by a 45-0 Sugar Bowl loss and now lives on a dump of a boat and scrapes barnacles for a living – conveniently enough, within sight of the Sentinels’ stadium. Falco eventually succumbs to McGinty’s hard-sell hoopla and joins his fellow rejects in their quest for respectability.
The philosophy that produced this film could be characterized as success via mind-numbing excess. If one person vomiting is funny, having several more vomit is guaranteed to be funnier by orders of magnitude. Fat guys are inherently funny. Fat ethnic guys are even funnier. Fat ethnic guys arguing in slang – oh my aching sides.
For some unexplained reason, the Sentinels’ cheerleaders also have to recruit a replacement squad. Their tryouts are shown, too – a lame copy of Saturday Night Live‘s "cheerleaders" sketch. And, wonder of wonders, all their replacements turn out to be former strippers. This gives director Howard Deutch the chance to throw in a leering shot of T & A to goose things every time the action lags – which is about every third frame.
The game footage is ponderous, with little style. This film isn’t even a collection of scenes – it’s a collection of shots, haphazardly stapled together. The melange of slow-motion, "intense" close-ups, and a thudding jock-rock soundtrack is intended to stir some visceral feelings of triumph but instead only anesthetizes.
This is one of the cheesiest-looking productions of late; it appears that most of the film’s budget went towards the football uniforms. Everything else has a definite discount look about it, like it was filmed on third shift in backwater locations desperate for the exposure. Football footage was shot at the Baltimore Ravens’ PSINet stadium, but no attempts were made to make the area look anything like the nation’s capital – Falco’s boat is shown berthed on the historic Washington DC waterfront (?) and there’s nary a DC landmark in sight.
As Coach McGinty, Gene Hackman plagiarizes his own performance in Hoosiers. The only differences here are that the ball isn’t round, the players are older, and there are eleven of them on a side instead of five. Keanu Reeves can be effective in the right role (The Matrix). In the wrong one (A Walk In The Clouds) he has been spectacularly bad. The best thing that can be said about his performance here is that it’s over in 118 minutes.
In a film like this it’s obvious that adversity will be overcome, courage and the ever-intangible "heart" will be displayed. There will be close last-second victories, narrow escapes, poignant moments. The only question becomes how cleverly the film can roast and serve these dusty old chestnuts. But The Replacements never has any aspirations to be original or distinctive. Like an old term paper that a student has signed and resubmitted as new, it’s lazy and dishonest.
– Bob Aulert