Ric Roman Waugh, 2013
For a while, I thought Hollywood may have outgrown the Sports Underdog Formula. One of the most irritating movie staples, it can be identified by the presence of a rag-tag bunch of [insert sport name here] players who are badly beaten but learn to play with the help of an inspirational coach. There is inevitably a big game at the end and the team inevitably wins by a nose. I hadn’t seen any variations on the formula in quite a few months and hoped that perhaps it had gone the way of the Spaghetti Western. I didn’t see The Replacements lumbering down the tracks.
Its marketing campaign made it look somewhat promising — when the NFL players’ union calls a strike, the owners decide to bring in replacement players. What I was hoping for from director Howard Deutch, I guess, was a satire of sports politics. Alas, we’re given Keanu Reeves as a former college quarterback brought in by interim coach Jimmy McGinty (Gene Hackman) to be the star player of the replacement team. “A team’s gotta have heart,” McGinty keeps saying, and according to him the people he’s hired — including a priest, a bunch of ex-convicts, an Irish pub owner and a hyperactive cop — fit the bill. Well, if you say so.
And that’s really it for plot. Mayhem predictably ensues. Aside from the inane football gags (a butterfinger of a wide receiver rubs glue on his hands to catch the ball; all of the players vomit on the field; one of the linesmen is a sumo wrestler), there’s also a dance number to “I Will Survive” in a jail cell. Reeves falls in love with the head cheerleader (Brooke Langton) in one of the shallowest, sloppiest movie romances I have ever seen.
This astonishingly stupid movie has the cajones to think that it’s actually saying something about the state of professional football. It suggests that the current NFL is full of money-hungry businessmen who don’t understand the spirit of the game. This is all the while the team that’s supposed to be the NFL’s role model proudly cheat to win, dismissing their misdeeds with a “What are they gonna do? Fire you?” So that’s the mentality that represents the true spirit of football. I see now.
The cheerleaders play such a big part in the movie that I wound up amusing myself by trying to imagine the conversation that the filmmakers must have had.
Often times, during the game scenes, it seemed that The Replacements was paying more attention to the girls than to the game. Granted — I liked looking at the cheerleaders, and they were a momentary reprieve from the pathetic action taking place elsewhere in the film, but imagine how desperate the director must have been for something, anything, to distract attention from the inanity of the material.
What else is there to say? The Replacements is formulaic, unfunny and almost offensively idiotic. Even Keanu Reeves, usually looking so lost and useless, manages to rise above the material. Now, that’s something.
-- Eugene Novikov
|Starring:||Brett Cullen, Brooke Langton, Jack Warden, Rhys Ifans, Keanu Reeves, Jon Favreau, Gene Hackman|
|Directed by:||Howard Deutch|