Friday August 11, 2000
The British can relax. Collectively distraught at being depicted as the bad guys in a spate of recent pictures, they've been supplanted by Hollywood's latest candidate for villain du jour: unionized workers.
Not content with being a cliche-ridden, stereotype-driven comedy about average guys following their dream of football glory, "The Replacements" (inspired, if that is the right word, by the 1987 NFL strike) can't resist making sour jokes about how whiny athletes are for even thinking about walking off the job.
Even if it's acceptable to have that as a starting point, the film can't get enough of portraying striking players as the kind of bullying thugs who make cruel fun of a deaf athlete and say things like "I know $5 million sounds like a lot of money, but do you have any idea what insurance on a Ferrari costs?" This from well-paid writers and actors who are thinking of going on strike themselves and would be shocked if anyone told them they should shut up and be grateful for what they have.
It would be conveniently glib to say that "The Replacements" shows what happens when replacement writers and directors get to make films, but the harsh truth is that the reverse is true. Both director Howard Deutch ("Grumpier Old Men") and writer Vince McKewin (everything from "Rush Hour" to "Operation Dumbo Drop") are veteran Hollywood players, and the result is a haphazard film about half as sophisticated as the average beer commercial.
As for the actors, every single one of them, even star Keanu Reeves, has been noticeably better in previous work. Jon Favreau and Brooke Langton were better in "Swingers," Orlando Jones was better in "Liberty Heights," Rhys Ifans was better in "Notting Hill" (as Hugh Grant's dotty roommate). As for Gene Hackman, it's not so much that he's been better elsewhere (that's a given) as that his performance as Washington Sentinels Coach Jimmy McGinty is such a pale copy of the memorable work he did as Robert Redford's coach in "Downhill Racer."
When McGinty gets hired by owner Edward O'Neil (the venerable Jack Warden) to assemble and coach the replacement Sentinels for the final four games of the season, he is not without ideas of his own about player selection. "We're gonna go a different way," he tells his boss, by which he means hire a bunch of misfits and weirdos, each of whom has one particular talent. For instance:
Clifford Franklin (Jones), a super speed demon who can't hold onto the ball;
Nigel "The Leg" Gruff (Ifans), a Welsh place-kicker who drinks, smokes and gambles to excess;
Daniel Bateman (Favreau), an L.A. cop prone to excessive violence;
Jumbo Fumiko (Ace Yonamine), a bulky Japanese sumo wrestler.
When you add in a nasty African American felon as well as a painfully macho attitude toward women epitomized by the often-repeated mantra "that's why girls don't play the game," you get a film that wouldn't know where to begin without stereotypes of all kinds to lean on.
Speaking of women, one of the oddities of "The Replacements" plot is that the team's cheerleaders seem to have walked off along with the players, leaving head cheerer Annabelle Farrell (Langton) to recruit replacements from local lap dancers and exotic performers. From then on, the film's philosophy becomes, when in doubt--which is often--cut to shots of the gyrating cheerleaders.
Though she doesn't date football players, Annabelle can't keep her eyes off the team's new quarterback, Shane Falco (Reeves), nicknamed "Footsteps" because his confidence was destroyed by a bad performance in the Sugar Bowl. Vow or no vow, Annabelle is soon rubbing yam extract onto Shane's bruises, and their romantic arc is as predictable as the homilies of TV commentators John Madden and Pat Summerall (who may yet regret agreeing to play themselves).
Since McGinty's idea of coaching is throwing platitudes like "winners always want the ball when the game is on the line" at Falco, you know the quarterback has gotten the hang of things when he tells his guys, "Pain heals, chicks dig scars, glory lives forever." Any replacements for that line will be gratefully accepted.
The Replacements, 2000. PG-13, for some crude sexual humor and language. Warner Bros. presents, in association with Bel-Air Entertainment, a Dylan Sellers production, released by Warner Bros. Director Howard Deutch. Producer Dylan Sellers. Executive producers Steven Reuther, Jeffrey Chernov, Erwin Stoff. Screenplay by Vince McKewin. Cinematographer Tak Fujimoto. Editor Bud Smith, Seth Flaum. Costume designer Jill Ohanneson. Music John Debney. Production designer Dan Bishop. Art director Gary Kosko. Set decorator Maria Nay. Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes. Keanu Reeves as Shane Falco. Gene Hackman as Jimmy McGinty. Brooke Langton as Annabelle. Orlando Jones as Clifford Franklin. Jon Favreau as Daniel Bateman.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times