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'Replacements, The'

Keanu Reeves leads his squad over the pigskin picket line in 'The Replacements'

Friday, August 11, 2000

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

The Washington Sentinels are in big trouble. With the playoffs just a week away, the players have gone on strike. There's only one thing for owner Jack Warden to do (especially if he wants to get a movie out of it): Drag legendary old coach Gene Hackman out of retirement to recruit and train "The Replacements" fast.

'The Replacements'

Rating: PG-13 for moderate profanity

Players: Keanu Reeves, Gene Hackman, Brooke Langton

Director: Howard Deutch

Web Site: www.thereplace

Critic's call: 2 1/2 stars


A standard ratio exists for such an assignment: The Bad News Boars hastily assembled by coach Hackman must consist of one handsome guy -- moody quarterback Keanu Reeves -- and 10 grotesque ones, e.g.: receiver Orlando Jones, who can't catch; Welsh kicker Rhys Ifans, who chain-smokes on the field; current (not ex-) con Michael Jace; MTV bodyguards Michael "Bear" Taliferro and Fazon Love; plus a huge Japanese sumo wrestler named Jumbo Fumiko. The only thing missing is a beefy nun. Otherwise, it's a full set of misfits.

Miss Fit as a Fiddle, on the other hand, is head cheerleader Brooke Langton (from "Melrose Place") in a surprisingly good performance. Guess which player she falls in love with? Jumbo! No, that's a lie -- just wanted to see if you were paying attention. Brooke only has eyes for Keanu, and a sweet little romance develops between them.

Evidently, when gridiron boys go on strike, so do the T&A gridiron girls. In crossing a pigskin picket line, you can't exactly be called a scab. It's like going against a walkout of the United Millionaires of America -- enduring the taunts of Bill Gates, Malcolm Forbes and David Rockefeller as you pass by.

Director Howard Deutch ("Pretty in Pink," "Grumpier Old Men") says he's not a hardcore football fan. Neither am I. I leave that to my wife, the Diva, who can recite all the Steelers' statistics at the drop of a boa. I can recite all the vice presidents. Neither trick is in much demand at the better cocktail parties, but we all have our charming specialties. John Madden's and Pat Summerall's specialty is commentary, and they are used to good effect here, playing themselves (who else would they play?).

Coincidentally enough, almost every game in "The Replacements" concludes with the underdog Sentinels trailing by a couple points, just one field goal or touchdown from last-second victory. But what film-football game ever ends otherwise?

On the plausibility scale, some of the on-field shenanigans are unintentionally reminiscent of "Horse Feathers" (1932), the Marx Brothers' football epic pitting Darwin against arch-rival Huxley. When it gets down to it, however, faux football like "The Replacements" is more fun to watch than real football, anyway.

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