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The Replacements (2000) - Does it hold up?

It has the internet’s favorite hero, Keanu Reeves, how bad can it be?

The poster for the movie

I decided to branch out a little this time and watch one of my favorite football movies from my youth. The Replacements was led by Gene Hackman - who always disappoints me when I realize he isn’t Jack Nicholson - and Keanu Reeves - who never disappoints anyone, ever.

The movie is your prototypical underdog sports story, for the most part. If you like that kind of movie, you might enjoy this one. You can make a prototypical story work if you add the right flair to it. This movie, sadly, does not.

I remember loving this film when I was a kid, but, alas, times have changed, and I’m more aware of what’s happening in the movie than I was then. Back then, it was easy enough, Reeves’ Shane Falco has heart, and Brett Cullen’s Eddie Martel does not. What more did I need to know? Unfortunately, now I understand the framing device for this movie - Eddie Martel is part of his union’s strike against the league’s refusal to increase the salary cap despite new earnings. Falco is a line-crosser or a scab. If you’re not pro-union, it may not matter to you, but I am, and it matters to me; I found it extremely difficult to root for a team of scabs even if I understood their impulse to get paid to play football when they usually would be impossible for them.

A lot of the other jokes throughout the film fall a bit flat. There’s the cop with a violence problem that doesn’t sit well, now. Then there is the scene with the cheerleaders - all recruited from local strip clubs - where they behave exceptionally suggestively that would never fly in a real football game and wasted a bunch of time that this movie could have put to better use. The sumo wrestler on the team has a Japanese victory chant, “Nan desu ka!” that actually means, “What is this?” in Japanese; it’s unclear to me why this would be the victory chant of a native Japanese speaker. Finally, a scene where a player with a gun in the parking lot brings up all kinds of bad memories for Chiefs fans who remember 2012. It’s ultimately played off with a coach asking for anyone with a firearm to turn it in, no question’s asked, and no one moving to do so.

But even beyond the jokes that just don’t land, the movie wouldn’t have been good. There’s some chemistry between Falco and head cheerleader Annabelle Farrel, but there are too few steps from her telling him she doesn’t date football players to her sitting alone in her bar with a lit candle about to cry because he’s stood her up. I went back and scanned the movie just to be sure, but there is absolutely no scene between kicker Nigel Gruff and the loan shark he’s indebted to that indicates they want him to miss the game-winning field goal. He just assumes that’s true based on spotting them in the stands looking conspicuous, which is just...weird.

I’m glad I did some post-viewing research because it turns out a couple of things I had planned to bash here ended up being authentic. The film is based on the real-life story from the 1987 NFL strike, which saw Washington’s football team use scabs to win three straight games early in the season before the regulars returned and won the Super Bowl. I was going to ding the movie for having cheerleader recruitment in the middle of the year, but in real life, the cheerleaders refused to cross the picket lines, so that actually would have had to happen if they were going to have any. I also found the idea that these guys could come in, win three games, including one against true NFL competition, and then vanish with no recognition or new jobs. But apparently, that’s precisely what happened to the replacement players on the real Washington team; their accomplishments were downplayed and they received no recognition until 2018, when the team finally gave them Super Bowl rings to commemorate their contributions.

This film is entirely disinterested in developing any of its characters in any meaningful way because it focuses on hijinks. Unfortunately, the hijinks simply aren’t funny 20 years later. Then, without interesting characters or funny hijinks, the plot falls flat. I simply cannot recommend this movie to anyone with good taste. There just isn’t enough entertainment to justify the two hours out of your life.