Football Will Never Be the Same
Exciting football action energizes The Replacements --- a witty, fast-paced movie depicting what happens when unlikely players are recruited during a strike by professional athletes. The film stars Gene Hackman as a legendary coach and Keanu Reeves as his teamís new quarterback. Hackman, as always, works hard to make his character believable, and although Reeves may be coasting through many scenes, he can rely on his dark good looks and soothing voice to carry him through, as usual. Fortunately, what both actors bring to their roles works well here.
Oscar-winner Hackman (The French Connection and Unforgiven) plays Jimmy McGinty, a coach with his own Mission Impossible. He must put together a brand new Washington Sentinels team in just one week. And his team has to win three out of four games to be in the upcoming playoffs. Projecting a combination of toughness and concern, Hackman gives this somewhat clichť role a down-to-earth treatment that makes it special. After yelling to his most aggressive replacement player (Jon Favreau), "Get me the ball," he mutters to himself, "God, I hope he doesnít kill someone." Just by shaking his head ever so slightly, Hackman masterfully demonstrates his characterís conflicting feelings.
When the coach tells people he wants Shane Falco (Reeves) for the teamís quarterback, they laugh. "He hasnít played in years," one remarks. "He should be well-rested then," the coach declares. Falco, who is now scraping the bottom of boats in the harbor, still broods about losing an important game long ago. "Is that what you want to be remembered for," asks the coach. "I donít want to be remembered at all," Falco insists. But he agrees to join the team.
In his first appearance on the field, Falco is something wondrous to see --- running in slow motion with his long hair flowing in the wind. In all fairness, Reeves is more than eye candy in this film. He displays excellent comic timing, especially during sequences with his mismatched teammates. For example, when the entire team starts singing "I Will Survive," Reevesí droll manner is quite amusing. He first looks at the group from the sidelines, feigning detachment, then joins in. Also, his love scenes with Brooke Langton (Swingers), who plays the head cheerleader, are very tender. As he gazes longingly at this beautiful lady, itís easy to see why Romantic Times Magazine named Reeves the most romantic hero of the year in 1995 (for A Walk in the Clouds).
Hilarious player interactions score big victories in The Replacements. Muddled huddles, unconventional touchdowns, and crazy locker room squabbles contribute to the filmís zany ambience. Director Howard Deutch (Grumpier Old Men) and screenwriter Vince McKewin (Fly Away Home) have included one particular scene that should become a classic. When the coach asks his team to tell him about their fears so they can face them in the next game, the men focus on such unimportant things as "Spiders on the field," "Bees on the field," etc. How he gets them to deal with more emotional issues is clever indeed, but to reveal it here would be a spoiler.
Much of the filmís fun comes from watching the replacement players function in spite of their idiosyncrasies. Clifford Franklin (Orlando Jones) may be the fastest man alive, but he canít catch anything --- even if itís thrown right at him. Nigel Gruff (Rhys Ifans) is a Welsh star kicker whoís so addicted to cigarettes he has to smoke on the field during games. Rounding out the peculiar team are a huge sumo wrestler (Ace Yonamine), a pensive convict (Michael Jace), an overly physical cop (Favreau), a talented deaf youngster (David Denman), and two music industry bodyguards (Michael Taliferro and Faizon Love).
Even though Iím no football fan, I thoroughly enjoyed The Replacements. A much better football film than the highly touted Any Given Sunday, it celebrates second chances, loyalty, and heart. Whatís not to like?
(Released by Warner Bros. and rated "PG-13" for some crude sexual humor and language.)