The Replacements was one of the best bands to emerge from the independent music scene in the 1980s and their legacy lives on in the grunge music of today. Frontman Paul Westerberg and company... wait a minute, Guidoís saying something to me. What? You wanted me to review a movie called "The Replacements" starring Keanu Reeves. OK, Iíll be back in a few minutes.
Except for maybe pornography, the sports film may be the most cliched genre in all of moviedom. Despite some notable exceptions, such as "Rocky", most fictional movies that deal with athletic competition follow the same tired formula and give the audience very predictable results. Yet, for some reason, despite the fact that there are hundreds of channels on cable showing actual sporting events, filmgoers still flock to sports movies. "The Replacements" is the latest in a long line of movies that deal with the game of football. And, keeping with the genre, the movie follows the generic formula. But, like the team depicted in the film, the movie "The Replacements" also has some tricks up its sleeve, which ultimately makes it a winner.
"The Replacements" opens by introducing us to the Washington Sentinels football team (of some fictional pro football league). Also, we immediately learn that all of the football players have gone on strike. Sentinels owner Edward OíNeill (Jack Warden) contacts ex-coach Jimmy McGinty (Gene Hackman) to discuss putting a new team together. (McGinty apparently worked for OíNeill in the past, but this is never really explained.) OíNeill decides that he wants to recruit replacement players or "scabs" to make up the new Washington Sentinels. If this team can win three out of the last four games in the season, theyíll make it to the playoffs. McGinty accepts the job and goes after the replacement players. His most ambitious recruiting goal is Shane Falco (Keanu Reeves). Falcoís college team lost the Sugar Bowl by forty-five points and heís never been able to let go of that. So, he left football and makes a living scraping the barnacles off of boats. McGinty convinces Falco to join the new team, which consists of many colorful characters, such as mini-mart worker Clifford Franklin (Orlando Jones, of the 7-Up commercials); an insane cop (Jon Favreau); and a Welsh alcoholic (Rhys Ifans, of "Notting Hill" fame).
Once the team is assembled, "The Replacements" falls right into the sports movie cliches. The team struggles to win. The team struggles to gel. No one believes in the team. Falco finds a love-interest in head cheerleader Annabelle Farrel (Brooke Langton). At times, "The Replacements" appears to be a carbon copy of "Major League", with football substituted for baseball. But, the film is able to overcome all of these obstacles and succeed. How? Because of the characters and the actors. All of the cliches and hackneyed plot devices in the film are ultimately forgivable because the characters are so believable (to a point) and lovable. Each player has his own unique backstory and his own reason for why he wants to succeed as one of the Sentinels. "The Replacements" even rises above the cliches at times to bring us some creative features, such as a player who is hearing impaired. Even though youíll probably be able to predict even single step of the movie, youíll never know what one of these crazy characters is going to do next. The bond that the audience forms with these characters helps to make "The Replacements" a funny and exciting movie.
And, of course, these characters wouldnít exist without the actors who are portraying them. Keanu Reeves tries very hard to be "un-Neo-like" and just be an average-joe type character, and he does a fairly good job of it. Reeves is able to project a true sense of loss and regret when it comes to his football career. Gene Hackman must do a great job in "The Replacements", because he didnít get on my nerves, as he usually does. Itís always great to see Jack Warden work, and his small part in this film is a winner. But, itís the lesser known actors who steal the show. Orlando Jones is hilarious as the bumbling Clifford. Thereís one scene in the film involving Cliffordís catching ability that is so cliched that youíll groan, but Jones still manages to make it funny. Jon Favreau, who played Gutter in "P.C.U." and wrote "Swingers", is great as the reckless Bateman. And if you liked Rhys Ifans in "Notting Hill" or "Little Nicky", then youíll love him as the ex-soccer player whoís decided to try his hand at football simply to pay off his gambling debts.
As Iím a critic who loves to nitpick, I must bring up a problem with "The Replacements" that was very annoying. The film is simply poorly edited. Ideas and subplots are raised and then never expanded on. For example, once the "scabs" are chosen, we see Annabelle recruiting new cheerleaders. But, they never tell us why the old cheerleaders left! Did they go on strike too? Also, I know that itís very cliched to cut from the action to the game-clock in a sports film, but thatís really the only effective way to convey the amount of time left in a game. That isnít done in "The Replacements" and itís often confusing as to how close the team is to winning or losing. To make matters worse, there are several seemingly random shots of the ground or peopleís feet. If youíve ever seen any other sports film, youíll have no problem following "The Replacements", but I canít help but wonder what happened to some of these scenes.
Warner Home Video has recently released "The Replacements" to DVD and the package scores a touchdown. The film itself has been given an anamorphic transfer and is letterboxed at 1.85:1. Also, there are no noticeable problems with the framing of the image. The picture is very clear and sharp, showing only the most minute and subtle grain. There are no obvious defects from the source print, and no overt artifacting. This clear image paves way for the great colors to come across the screen. The Sentinelsí colors are red & blue and these stand out very well against the green grass of the football field. As most of the film takes place in bright daylight, the color composition and striking clarity of the picture are very obvious throughout the entire movie.
A Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack graces "The Replacements" DVD and serves the film very well. The dialogue is audible and clear, with no interference from white noise or hissing. The surround sound is very good on this soundtrack, especially during the game sequences, as the roar of the crowd fills the speakers. The wide dynamic range of the surround sound is matched by the bass response, as each tackle and hit reverberates throughout the room. Aside from the original score by John Debney, "The Replacements" offers several rock songs, all of which sound very good. Overall, the audio and video presentations on this DVD are very impressive.
"The Replacements" DVD also has a full-roster of special features, most of which focus on the making of the film. We start with an audio commentary by director Howard Deutch. While Deutchís voice is a bit monotone, he does deliver an interesting and informative commentary. He speaks at length throughout the film and gives a nice mixture of anecdotes concerning the actors and the locations, as well as more technical comments. Although this isnít the most exciting commentary ever recorded, it is very competently done and will answer most of the questions that you may have about the film.
Next up, we have the 15-minute featurette, "The Making of íThe Replacementsí", which is part of the "HBO First Look" series. This feature is hosted by Orlando Jones, and is very informative and entertaining. Itís informative as it offers behind-the-scenes footage from the set of the film and interviews with most of the principal actors and filmmakers. Itís entertaining because Jones acts as the primary interviewer, and is constantly chasing people around the set. One question that he asks director Deutch concerning the casting of "Grumpier Old Men" is very funny. "The Making of íThe Replacementsí" is one of the better "studio" featurettes that Iíve seen lately.
If youíre like me, you watch a film like "The Replacements" and wonder, "How do they stage the football games?" Well, now we know the answer. This DVD has a segment called, "Making the Plays: An Actorís Guide to Football." This 9-minute featurette takes us behind the scenes to show us how the football shots were done. There are extensive interviews with the technical advisors (note the shirt worn by Mark Ellis at the 3:03 mark), and comments from the actors about their experiences as football players -- "Donít hit the actors, really means donít hit Keanu!" This segment is short and sweet, but incredibly informative and at least for me, greatly appreciated. The other extra features on the DVD are cast and crew filmographies and the theatrical trailer for "The Replacements", which is letterboxed at 1.85:1.
Itís very obvious while watching "The Replacements" that Keanu Reeves was cast in the film so that women would come to see it. There are so many cut-away shots to the jiggling cheerleaders that I expected Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla to show up in the film. But, "The Replacements" isnít just for men and I think that anyone (not just sports fans) will come away liking the movie. You certainly canít help but like this DVD with itís excellent transfer and educational supplements. "The Replacements" may not be original, but it still ends up a winner.