The Replacements

It may be the great American pastime and the subject of most great American sports movies, but there's something a little confining about baseball. There's a default mood shared by most baseball movies (with the possible exception of the Major League series and Ed), a hushed reverence for the game that tends to limit them, making baseball almost as much a genre as a subject or setting. Not so with the inherently rowdier sport of football, which in the last year and a half has played host to a teensploitation film (Varsity Blues), a neo-conservative celebration of hypermasculinity (Any Given Sunday), and now a witless sad-sacks-make-good comedy starring a wan Keanu Reeves as a quarterback whose career never recovered from a humiliating Sugar Bowl loss. He's given a shot at redemption thanks to a players' strike that finds Washington Sentinels coach Gene Hackman, who himself has something to prove, scouting for talented scabs. (Though inspired by the 1987 NFL players' strike, it's set in the present and within some alternate-universe pro football league.) To this end, he also brings in a colorful assortment of broad comic types, including a sumo wrestler, a chain-smoking Welsh soccer player (Rhys Ifans), a sadistic cop (Jon Favreau), a born-again preacher, a 7-Up pitchman (Orlando Jones), a deaf man, and a convict. (He apparently couldn't secure Air Bud or the field-goal-kicking mule from Gus.) Antics on top of hijinks on top of shenanigans ensue, most of it worse than you might expect, unless your expectations include watching a stocky Japanese man vomiting raw eggs. It's almost unfair to expect more from the leaden touch of director Howard Deutch (The Great Outdoors, Grumpier Old Men), who proves with The Replacements that there's no such thing as a can't-miss premise. Equally troublesome is the tightlipped Reeves, with whom the film expects the audience to sympathize over the team's spoiled, striking quarterback (Brett Cullen) because Reeves has "heart," a detail conveyed by having other characters speak of him as a great guy every five minutes. Ultimately, it seems we're supposed to choose Reeves over Cullen because one has an ugly soul patch and the other a far prettier face. By the time The Replacements gets down to the inevitable big-game finale, which the otherwise happily brain-dead comedy plays relatively straight, it's hard to care even on such a superficial level.

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