The Replacements

on August 11, 2000 by Michael Tunison
   As underdog sports movies go, the football comedy "The Replacements" is a lot like its misfit heroes--it's not exactly poetry in motion, but it does manage to put some points on the board in its clumsy, well-meaning way. And speaking of underdogs, it's hard not to cheer for a film so confident it can win the day with a third-rate script and "The Matrix's" fascinatingly untalented Keanu Reeves leading the team.

   The "Rocky"-in-cleats storyline is set during a pro football strike much like the one that cut the 1987 NFL season short. The fictional Washington Sentinels' spoiled regular players are holding out for more millions, so it's up to a former coach (Gene Hackman) to put together a replacement squad for the last four games before the playoffs. Naturally, he looks to such unlikely characters as assorted crooks, an unhinged police commando, a sumo wrestler, a deaf man and a Welsh soccer bum to fill up the roster. For his quarterback, he turns to a onetime college star (Reeves) who lost his confidence after an infamously disastrous bowl game.

   Much of what follows plays like it was put together by replacement filmmakers. Director Howard Deutch ("Grumpier Old Men") and screenwriter Vince McKewin stumble through every cliché in the book as the Sentinels make their predictable arc from laughingstocks to hometown heroes. Fortunately, there's room in the film's nearly two-hour running time for some inspired physical comedy on the gridiron, including a memorable bit about a receiver ("Magnolia's" Orlando Jones) unable to pry various objects out of his Stick-Um-covered hands. Veteran bad-movie survivor Hackman even manages to wring some emotion out of the coach's cornball speeches. Alas, no amount of coaching can save the moments riding on Reeves' monotone dramatic delivery. It's a good thing football movies are a team sport. Starring Keanu Reeves, Gene Hackman, Brooke Langton, Jack Warden and Jon Favreau. Directed by Howard Deutch. Written by Vince McKewin. Produced by Dylan Sellers. A Warner Bros. release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for some crude sexual humor and language. Running time: 117 min

Tags: Keanu Reeves, Gene Hackman, Brooke Langton, Jack Warden, Jon Favreau, Directed by Howard Deutch, Written by Vince McKewin, Produced by Dylan Sellers, A Warner Bros. release, Comedy, Welsh, soccer, police, emotion

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