There isn’t a football cliche “The Replacements” doesn’t tackle, but its all-star cast, sharp writing and easygoing approach make it one of the more enjoyable sports comedies in the last two decades.
Inspired by the real 1987 National Football League players strike, the comedy calls to question the privileged millionaires who’d rather sit out for more money than play the game. Despite all the recent headlines about concussions and long-term injuries, the plot still seems as relevant as it did when the film was released in 2000.
With the owners willing to let the players walk but not miss out on the payday of hosting games, they need someone else to take to the field and opt to finish off the season with replacement (i.e. scab) players.
To lead his ragtag crew, Washington Sentinels owner (Jack Warden) hires longtime coach Jimmy McGinty (Gene Hackman, “Superman II“) to guide his team to the playoffs even if he has to make some off the beaten path selections.
While hardly as demanding as his previous coaching role in “Hoosiers,” Hackman is a treat to watch as the firm, but honest head coach. In one of his final films before retiring, Hackman provides a gleaming presence with an assured confidence of seen and done it all that makes for such a comfortable fit for the movie.
Jimmy’s top pick to head his team is Shane Falco (Keanu Reeves, “John Wick“), a hot prospect who had a major flame out in a college football bowl game and was never the same. As with Hackman, the role isn’t a major challenge for Reeves as it fits smoothly with his default laid back persona making for one of Reeves’ more endearing characters.
Carrying the bulk of the comedy are Jon Favreau (“Iron Man“) as a slightly unhinged SWAT officer with violent tendencies; Faizon Love (“Couples Retreat“) and Michael Taliferro as bodyguards turned offensive linemen; Orlando Jones (“Bedazzled“) as a speedy wide receiver with butterfingers and Rhys Ifans (“The Amazing Spider-Man“) as an acid-tongue soccer star turned field goal kicker.
The cast has exceptional chemistry and are hilarious to watch bounce off one another. They play the part of strangers forced to become teammates well, especially once the pro players led by star QB Eddie Martel (Brett Cullen, “42“) begin harassing them for taking their jobs.
Screenwriter Vince McKewin gets the appropriate tone of football down correctly, but more importantly, he nails the comedy whether from situations on the field or the unexpected repercussions of hiring scab players and cheerleaders.
Featuring practically every stadium’s go-to playlist including We Will Rock You, Takin’ Care Of Business and Get Ready For This, the soundtrack may take the easy road to getting you hyped while watching the action, but it works.
As a welcome bonus and to provide an added layer of authenticity, the film features commentary by the iconic duo of Pat Summerall and John Madden — a move that all but guarantees “The Replacements” status as an all-time classic football movie.
The only time the film fumbles is the unnecessary romance with Shane and head cheerleader Annabelle Farrell (Brooke Langton), which feels cheaply tacked on just for the sake of having a romantic subplot.
But even that misstep is salvaged thanks to a great bit with Summerall and Madden “commentating” on Shane’s chances of scoring. And it’s hard to be too upset since Langton spends half the movie in a cheerleader outfit.
While it lacks the glimpse of the often ugly inner-workings of the sport like “Any Given Sunday” or inspirational, feel good message of “Remember the Titans,” “The Replacements” earns a starting spot on the all-time football films list for its likable and loose approach to America’s favorite pastime. Even if you could care less about football, you’re bound to be entertained by this silly, but charming sports comedy.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Haven’t seen “The Replacements” yet? Grab it from site partner Amazon.com, which kicks back a portion of your purchase to help Lyles Movie Files, running just from using this link: The Replacements [Blu-ray]