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The Replacements

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Replacements

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Gene Hackman
Director: Howard Deutch
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 114 Minutes
Release Date: August 2000
Genres: Comedy, Sports

*Also starring: Brooke Langton, Jack Warden, Jon Favreau, Rhys Ifans, Orlando Jones, Brett Cullen, Gailard Sartain

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Let's say that you're a person who works for a living, so that whether you're a member of a union or not, you support the activities of organized labor. You wouldn't think of crossing a picket line. But then you witness an unusual phenomenon that gets you thinking about your views. A pro football team is on strike, its players forming a line around the stadium? Why? Some of the players who are making five million dollars a year are asking for seven million. Would you sing "Solidarity Forever" as you pass them by, or would you swear off professional sports altogether and put your efforts exclusively into your Little League coaching job?

This is the sort of question that Howard Deutch, at the helm of "The Replacements," could have explored in Vince McKewin's fictionalized version of an actual labor dispute involving such a team in 1987. The issue could conceivably be examined even in a summer popcorn movie. Deutch could implicitly ask us in the audience whether we support the striking team's conduct in throwing eggs at the bus of the team which is crossing the lines to replace them, even overturning the car of the quarterback on whose shoulders rests the responsibility of getting the crew into the playoffs. Instead, we have to settle for a mind-numbingly predictable, inane narrative which fills the screen with the most stereotypical characters--losers all, who (surprise!) emerge at the end of the movie as conquerors.

The story turns on a strike by the entire Washington Sentinels team in mid-season, an outfit owned by the crusty Edward O'Neill (Jack Warden) and coached by the sincere and enthusiastic veteran Jimmy McGinty (Gene Hackman). When the already expensive squad walks the line outside the stadium, O'Neil and McGinty discuss what to do since, after all, the Sentinels must win the next three out of four games to enter the playoffs, and even a new group of cheerleaders must be recruited to inspire the men. McGinty hits on the sentimental idea of hiring a bunch of losers to whom he will give a second chance, even persuading Maryland's governor to release a hardened criminal from jail, Earl Wilkinson (Michael Jace). He rounds up a chain-smoking Welshman, Nigel Gruff (Rhys Ifans); a deaf player, Brian Murphy (David Denman); a Japanese sumo wrestler, Jumbo Fumiko (Ace Yonamine); and most notably a has-been quarterback who screwed up badly in the Sugar Bowl a few seasons back, Shane Falco (Keanu Reeves). Though this group of scabs become embroiled in several fratricidal fights, they make up for their deficiency of adequate training with what the other teams lack: heart--"miles and miles of heart," in the expression of the coach--words which the majority of the movie audience will have heard for the first time.

In line with the demands of the summer sports genre, the new group of Sentinels face the villainous opposition of the regular quarterback, Eddie Martel (Brett Cullen), who regularly rags the irregulars, even inspiring his teammates to turn over Falco's car twice. For the necessary love interest, Deutch has the handsome and gentle quarterback, Shane Falco, make eyes at the head cheerleader/bartender, Annabelle (Brooke Langton), and for sex, we get the motley group of cheerleaders recruited partly from the local strip joints to do some suggestive dances while players on both sides, and even the referees, have a difficult time keeping their eyes glued to the ball.

Tech credits are OK, with DP Tak Fujimoto exercising some long shots of the filled stadium with close-ups of the men who repeatedly smash into each other, while keeping the MTV fans in the movie audience busy moving from the large-shouldered men on the field to the amply endowed women delivering non-traditional cheers.

"The Replacements" is far removed from the more penetrating "Any Given Sunday," Oliver Stone's terrific football saga that castigates those who have made football a business with its performers more interested in contracts for commercials than in throwing touchdown passes. Nor does it possess the acting talent of Cameron Crowe's "Jerry Maguire," which included the benefit of exploring a sports agent's crisis of conscience. In others, "The Replacements" settles for mere fluff when a solid sports film could feature all the bone-crushing body crunches while still investigating real issues.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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