For those who appreciate losers, barfing, bashing, lap dancing, and, oh, maybe a little football, this is the film for you. The Replacements--whose scriptwriters never met a cliché they didn't like--is the rollicking tale of a bunch of has-beens and never-weres given that golden "second chance" to turn themselves into heroes of the gridiron. Vacuous and silly, the film arrives right in time for NFL preseason, and undoubtedly leatherheads will show up en masse to cheer the foolishness on.Keanu Reeves, of all people, startles with his unexpectedly thick thighs and heft as faded ex-quarterback Shane Falco (an ideal QB moniker, that), who has yet to live down a disastrous Sugar Bowl appearance and is reduced to residing on a houseboat and making a living scraping barnacles. Falco is tapped to make a comeback by Jimmy McGinty (played with sparkle by Gene Hackman, who really ought to know better), coach of the Washington Sentinels, who has in turn been summoned by the team's crusty owner (a faded Jack Warden, whose presence recalls a far funnier football-themed movie, Heaven Can Wait) to pull together a team posthaste after the pros go on strike.
McGinty resorts to a selection of dubious scabs, including the reluctant Falco, a klutzy receiver (Orlando Jones), a violence-loving SWAT-team member (Jon Favreau), two ultrabeefy bodyguards (Faizon Love and Michael Taliferro), a prison inmate (Michael Jace), a born-again Christian (Troy Winbush), a deaf tight end (David Denman), and a sumo wrestler (Ace Yonamine). Are you laughing yet? The one legitimately brilliant bit of casting is Rhys Ifans (the Welshman who played Hugh Grant's hysterically tacky roommate in Notting Hill) as Nigel "The Leg" Gruff, a former soccer player who smokes nonstop before kicking the football to blazes. Fox TV broadcasters John Madden and Pat Summerall spoof themselves for more jollies.
Reeves is surprisingly credible as the thoughtful Falco (although his bopping along in a group boogie to "I Will Survive" is a low moment). He tangles with team's smarmy, swelled-head "real" QB (Brett Cullen) and the cute, tomboyish head cheerleader (Brooke Langton), who is forced to hire strippers (apparently the original cheerleaders are on strike too) with predictable results.
Loosely based on the actual 1987 NFL players' strike (and largely shot at Baltimore's PSINet Stadium), the film's strongest angle is its condemnation of the overpaid, whining star athletes who have lost touch with the real meaning of competition. But for the most part--especially coming on the heels of Oliver Stone's histrionic Any Given Sunday--The Replacements proves yet again that football is a lot better on the small screen than on the big screen.