|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 28 November 2000|
‘The Replacements’ teeters between being fitfully diverting and annoying during its running time. In hindsight after an initial theatrical viewing, its transitory pleasures recede, leaving a bad taste behind; watching it on DVD a second time makes its irritants more pronounced.
In ‘The Replacements,’ a strike by pro football players has Washington Sentinels owner O’Neil (Jack Warden) scrambling for able bodies to put on the field to keep his team in line for the play-offs. He hires ace coach Jimmy McGinty (Gene Hackman) – already fired by O’Neil once before – and allows him to recruit players as he sees fit. McGinty draws in Shane Falco (Keanu Reeves) as quarterback. Shane blew it at the 1996 Sugar Bowl and left the game in shame to clean boat hulls in a marina, but McGinty thinks the guy still has what it takes. The coach also brings in a convenience store clerk who is a fabulous runner who can’t catch (Orlando Jones), twin club bouncers (Faizon Love and Michael "Bear" Taliferro), a sumo wrestler (Ace Yonamine), a psychotic SWAT officer (Jon Favreau), a Welsh soccer kicker (Rhys Ifans) and several other unlikely types.
Most of the humor in ‘The Replacements’ is labored. This may be because the film’s premise as stated and as presented are two different things. The notion behind ‘The Replacements’ is, what if guys who never made the big time got to be heroes for a day? (The song "Heroes" is actually used on the soundtrack.) This is the stuff of drama. however, director Howard Deutsch and writer Vince McKewin seek to milk comedy from the situation by asking – without any plausible set-up – what if guys who don’t really know much about football were sent into the game? This is the stuff of farce, but ‘The Replacements’ is theoretically taking place in the real world.
The film doesn’t seem to know what mood it wants to create, changing stride sometimes mid-scene. Its efforts to be goofy backfire – although its heroes are strike-breakers, ‘The Replacements’ seems unintentionally pro-union, as it winds up suggesting that anyone who crosses a picket line must be a near-unemployable, certifiable moron.
‘The Replacements’ does have a measure of charm, courtesy mainly of its able cast. Reeves is sincere and likable, Hackman has conviction and Ifans steals half the film by being weird in a low-key way that is credible and thus very funny. Other actors have high energy, but their characters are so broadly conceived and written that it’s all they can do to keep the whole enterprise from turning into a live-action cartoon.
A kind of "let’s throw in a punchline with no joke" mentality permeates the proceedings. We get players who are unfamiliar with various aspects of football, even though McGinty has ostensibly been planning his non-pro dream team for years. We also get lectures on the nature of teamwork in a movie that bashes unions (made, as another reviewer pointed out, by SAG actors, a DGA director, a WGA writer and IATSE crew members).
The sound mix on the ‘Replacements’ DVD is generally good, though it seems that an enormous amount of bass is routed into the rear speakers. In Chapter 5, the deep rumble from the rears keeps pace with the more specific sounds – dialogue, jangling keys and even the whine of a still camera winder – coming from the center and mains. Chapter 8 has a pretty impressive effect as two bodies collide during game practice – it’s almost enough to make the viewer jump. Chapter 23 gets going with a room-shaking roar that’s dramatic – but without anything happening in the action to justify the intro. There are also a couple of glitches, with a bit of icky electronic grumbling in the center channel during Chapter 13 and a few pops during Hackman’s Chapter 17 dialogue. Chapter 30 makes good use of the soundtrack ballad "Blinded by Rainbows."
The disc is formatted in handy fashion, breaking the film itself into 40 chapters. Of the supplemental material, Deutsch’s director commentary is average. The HBO First Look special is somewhat entertaining, especially as it indicates that even the actors may have been put off by a singing/dancing scene in Chapter 19 intended to generate camaraderie that comes off feeling forced.
The "Actor’s Guide to Football" featurette may be the most entertaining item on the disk. Funnily enough, the off-duty cast members seem much more cognizant than their characters are of the danger of permanent injury or even death on the field. There’s no obligation for a sports comedy to reflect on this topic, but there is a requirement for the film to be funny and/or involving. ‘The Replacements’ tries to go for both effects at various times and only intermittently succeeds at either. More often, it comes off as simply insincere.