Eric D. Snider

The Replacements

If you're going to enjoy "The Replacements" -- and it's the kind of movie that makes you really WANT to like it -- you'll have to overlook a few things.

Ignore the fact that the entire film is made of pasted-together cliches from other movies. When an NFL players' strike occurs near the end of the season, the Washington Sentinels brings in an old coach named Jimmy McGinty (Gene Hackman) and a rag-tag group of "scabs," some of whom have played professional football, but many of whom have not. They're not playing for money; they're playing because they love the game.

Right down to the "surprise" development near the end, which involves a star quarterback who crosses the picket line and plays with the team of replacement players, the film lacks both creativity and originality. A has-been player gives the usual "I'm retired" speech when asked to come back, and even the bar fight has the standard guy-being-slid-down-the-bar-on-his-belly maneuver, used in every film that has ever had a bar fight.

Ignore also the flat romance between replacement quarterback Shane Falco (Keanu Reeves) and head cheerleader Annabelle (Brooke Langton). The film is palpably disappointing whenever those two have a scene together. The football scenes, and the inherent goofiness of non-players trying to play, may not be great, but they're certainly better than this tacked-on, unnecessary subplot.

You'll have to ignore the film's length, too. The premise is fun and many of the characters are likable, but the movie wears out its welcome about 20 minutes before it ends.

What "The Replacements" has going for it is the same thing the players have: heart. Without trying too hard, the film makes it clear that it just wants to be liked. It doesn't want to change your life. It just wants to entertain you, and maybe (though not too plausibly) give you one of those "rah-rah" feelings at the end.

Given its simple goals, it's not surprising that it more or less meets them. Keanu Reeves is his usual bland self, but Hackman is as classy and professional as ever, and they're both surrounded by a cast of zanies, all of whom are endearing, and many of whom are funny.

Rhys Ifans, the crass roommate from "Notting Hill," plays a similar character here, a kicker who chain-smokes and is usually evading a team of debt-collecting thugs. Jon Favreau's overzealous cop-turned-tackler is cartoony, but he grows on you after a while, especially when you see just how committed Favreau is to the character.

Other players include a Sumo wrestler (Ace Yonamine), two showbiz bodyguards (Michael Taliferro and Faizon Love), a show-off lothario (Orlando Jones) and a prisoner (Michael Jace) whom the state has let out of the penitentiary long enough to play these three games (which is something else you'll have to ignore).

"The Replacements" is the sort of movie where, just as you're starting to dislike it because of some ridiculous development or grossly ripped-off cliche, it does something to make you laugh and all is forgiven. It's a puppy-dog of a movie: not worth much, but at times quite amusing and always trying its darnedest to please you.

Grade: C+

Rated PG-13, frequent profanity, some vulgarity, some fistfighting, brief partial nudity, scantily clad cheerleaders

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