Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: The Replacements: Special Edition (2000)
Studio Line: Warner Bros. - Pros on strike. Everyday guys get to play.

Underdogs become top dogs in this fun-filled, rough-and-fumble comedy that's "the best football movie of the last few years" (Larry Stewart, Los Angles Times).

Keanu Reeves plays Shane Falco, a washed-out all-American QB who guides a team of misfits assembled by veteran coach Jimmy McGinty (Gene Hackman) to replace striking pro players. A motormouth receiver (Orlando Jones), a merciless linebacker (Jon Favreau), a nicotine-wired kicker (Rhys Ifans) and more line up alongside Falco for a drive to the playoffs. For sultry support, there's cheerleader Annabelle Farrell (Brooke Langton) and her ex-stripper squad. "Pain heals. Chicks dig scars. Glory lasts forever," Falco tells his team. It's a game plan that works to perfection.

Director: Howard Deutch
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Gene Hackman, Jack Warden, Brooke Langton, Jon Favreau, Rhys Ifans, Orlando Jones, Brett Cullen, Faizon Love, Michael Taliferro, John Madden, Pat Summerall
Box Office: Budget: $50 million. Opening Weekend: $11.039 million (2754 screens). Gross: $44.737 million.
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9; audio English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround 2.0; subtitles English, French; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 40 chapters; Rated PG-13; 118 min.; $24.95; street date 11/28/00.
Supplements: Audio Commentary by Director Howard Deutch; “The Making of The Replacements” 15-minute Featurette; “Making the Plays: An Actor’s Guide to Football” 9-minute Featurette; Theatrical Trailer; Cast and Crew.
Purchase: DVD | Score soundtrack - Various Artists

Picture/Sound/Extras: A-/A-/B-

Thank God for the 1991 football season. The Super Bowl success experienced by that year’s Redskins finally lifted them from asterisk status. That’s because of their three Super Bowl victories, only that one followed a complete season; the Redskins’ two prior championships occurred after strike-marred seasons.

One of those - after the 1982 campaign - was seen as semi-tainted because of the reduced number of games; the strike lopped seven contests off the usual schedule for a total of only nine games played - that’s barely half a season! During the 1987 season, only one game was canceled due to the strike, but three others were seen as controversial for one big reason: they used replacement athletes to play the games.

That real-life history was the inspiration for the fictional events depicted in The Replacements, a football comedy that provided sporadic entertainment but lacked much spark. Likely as a nod to the Redskins’ 1987 success, here we find a made-up team called the Washington Sentinels who play in an unnamed fictional football league; although nothing in The Replacements was as gritty as the actions depicted in 1999’s Any Given Sunday, the NFL likely was bothered by the depiction of pro players as arrogant jerks.

Unfortunately, that portrayal may be the most accurate aspect of The Replacements, a movie that gets lots of facts wrong. Some similar problems occurred during AGS, but they weren’t nearly as glaring as these. I’m not sure anyone involved with The Replacements has ever actually seen a football game. A slew of minor offenses appear - like the end of the season on Thanksgiving and the fact that John Madden and Pat Summerall cover all of the Sentinels’ games - plus a few doozies. For example, during the climactic game, one defensive player magically shows up in an offensive huddle. Why? Because the movie wanted him to take part in the scene; no logic is involved.

Perhaps the football flaws might have bothered me less if The Replacements offered a more compelling story, but there’s nothing here to excite me. It’s strictly “lovable loser” territory in which the scruffy underdogs overcome the odds to achieve success. From The Bad News Bears to Major League and with a billion other variations, we’ve seen this before, and we’ve seen it better. There’s not a single moment of The Replacements that rises above the material.

Keanu Reeves plays quarterback Shane Falco, a former college hotshot who lost his nerve after a disastrous experience in the Sugar Bowl. I’ve always been a mild supporter of Reeves’ work in that I’ve never thought he was as bad as his detractors claim. However, his acting here adds credence to their cause. Never mind that Reeves is a decade too old for the role - we learn that Falco played in the 1996 Sugar Bowl, which means he should be about 26 or so - but his utter lack of charisma and charm seems stunning. The guy obviously has something going for him, and he can be at least moderately effective. However, The Replacements shows Reeves on autopilot, and he fails to ignite at any point.

Gene Hackman is 100 times the actor that Reeves is, but even he seems flat and unimpressive here. His portrayal of coach Jimmy McGinty never makes much of an impression; Hackman looks the part and he talks the talk, but nothing about the performance stands out in any way. I can’t call his acting poor, but Hackman seems surprisingly bland.

Unsurprisingly, the remainder of the cast includes wacky outcasts, from the speedy and mouthy wide receiver who can’t catch (Orlando Jones) to the seedy Welsh place kicker (Rhys Ifans) to the sumo wrestler (Ace Yonamine) to the manic SWAT cop (Jon Favreau), all of them are quirky and nutty in some way and they’re supposed to add flavor to the mix. They don’t.

I can’t call The Replacements a disaster because it’s not. The movie remained watchable at all times and I can’t say I really minded the time I spent with it. However, it simply never rose above the level of utter mediocrity. Not a moment of the film surprised me, but that’s not a big concern; I don’t expect strange twists in his kind of movie. However, I do demand some sort of reason for being and something unique, and I couldn’t find anything that met that particular bill here.

The DVD:

The Replacements appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The picture suffered from a couple of surprising concerns, but for the most part it looked absolutely terrific.

Sharpness seemed flawless throughout the film. At no time did I discern any signs of soft or hazy images. The picture maintained excellent clarity and definition at all times. Moiré effects and jagged edges presented no concerns, and I detected only minor artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV. Print flaws appeared minor but were surprisingly heavy for a four-month-old movie. I saw light grain at times and also witnessed a few instances of speckles and grit. Again, these were fairly insubstantial, but considering the age of the material, they should have been completely absent; as such, I thought the print appeared excessively dirty.

Colors looked gorgeous at all times. The hues were nicely bright and clear and displayed excellent saturation. I thought the colors seemed virtually perfect throughout the film; they were truly vivid and bold. Black levels seemed similarly attractive. The dark tones were deep and rich, and shadow detail looked appropriately heavy but never excessively thick. As a whole, the movie presented a fabulous image; only a few odd flaws lowered my grade to a still-exceptional “A-“.

Also quite strong was the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Replacements. The mix presented a bias toward the front speakers and displayed a nice spectrum of audio within that environment. Music and effects spread cleanly to the side channels and they integrated together solidly. The surrounds mainly focused on the music. Some effects came out of the rear speakers, but mostly I heard positive reinforcement of the soundtrack’s many pop and rock songs. The soundfield started out slowly and was very firmly anchored to the front during early scenes, but it slowly branched out as the movie progressed and became quite involving after a while.

Audio quality seemed very good. Some dialogue appeared slightly stiff, but for the most part speech was natural and distinct with no edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Effects were clear and acceptably realistic - or hyper-realistic in the case of some sounds related to football action - and they displayed no signs of distortion. The music was really what made the soundtrack work, however. The songs offered fine dynamics and seemed clean and crisp throughout the film. They presented some tight and deep bass as well and really added a nice dimension to the mix. All in all, the soundtrack of The Replacements nicely complemented the on-screen action.

We find a few decent extras on The Replacements. First up is a running audio commentary from director Howard Deutch. For the most part, this was a serviceable but unspectacular track. Deutch lagged at times and left a few too many empty spaces, but he generally kept up with the proceedings. Actually, the commentary became somewhat more interesting as the film progressed, but this was a minor improvement. As a whole, his remarks seemed fairly bland. Deutch added some useful information about his filmmaking techniques and what he considers important, but the commentary only achieved mediocrity at best. It deserves a listen if you liked the movie; otherwise it can safely be avoided.

Two glossy featurettes appear. The first of these was an “HBO First Look Special”. Creatively named “The Making of The Replacements”, this 15-minute program is hosted by actor Orlando Jones and is a very promotional and light. It combines the usual mix of film clips, interview sound bites and shots from the set into a glib but generally entertaining package. Jones isn’t quite as funny as he thinks he is, but the piece is a little more witty than most of these shows, so I found it watchable.

The other featurette resembles the HBO special but it takes on a more narrow focus. “Making the Plays: An Actor’s Guide to Football” gives us a brief primer in the training the performers in The Replacement went through to credibly behave like pros. The nine-minute show features a light tone similar to that of the HBO special, but I found it somewhat more satisfying just because it took on a more narrow, “nuts and bolts” side of the filmmaking experience. It’s a moderately fun look at the actors’ preparation.

Lastly, we get the movie’s theatrical trailer and a “Cast and Crew” section. The latter provides up-to-date filmographies of eight actors (Reeves, Hackman, Brooke Langton, Orlando Jones, Jon Favreau, Rhys Ifans, Jack Warden and Brett Cullen) plus director Deutch and writer Vince McKewin. No biographical information appears here. Sloppy production work alert: in each entry, the football team is referred to as the Washington “Centinels”.

I suppose that error was appropriate given the messy grasp of football displayed during The Replacements. Even had the film gotten those aspects correct, however, it still would have remained a bland and ordinary underdog comedy that lacked any semblance of spark or creativity; you’ve already seen this movie, and you enjoyed it a lot more the first time. The DVD provides terrific picture and sound plus a few decent extras. Serious fans of the actors or the subject may want to give The Replacements a look. Otherwise, it probably should stay on the shelf.

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