Plot: After mass walkouts as part of a players’ strike in pro football, the owners refuse to close down the season and instead, use replacement players. While some teams just bring in entire semi-pro squads to represent them for the final handful of games, the owner of the Sentinels has other plans. First he hires old school head coach Jimmy McGinty (Gene Hackman), then gives him free reign to build and operate the team, which leads to some nontraditional recruitment efforts. McGinty focuses on players who showed special talents, even if they either never got a shot at the pros or got close, but suffered setbacks. This includes a wide scope of colorful, unlikely new players, led by Shane Falco (Keanu Reeves), a gifted college quarterback who never recovered after a brutal bowl game loss. But can even McGinty turn these outcasts into some kind of team, especially with the playoffs on the line?
Entertainment Value: The Replacements centers on one of the most well worn, often seen concepts in cinema, the tried and true underdog sports narrative, complete with a wide scope of misfits involved. The movie seems to be inspired by a real life sports strike in 1987, but while it borrows a few threads from that event, this is by no means a biopic or accurate look at that strike. The movie seems to know what it is and just tries to offer what fans might want, with a large and colorful cast, consistent sports cliches, and an over the top sense of humor. In other words, The Replacement doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but it does make an effort to polish the premise a little and deliver what genre fans appreciate. The material is thin, but passable thanks to frequent shifts in focus that ensure no one thread or characters wears out the welcome. Some elements work better than others, but the blend overall is solid and I am glad the cheerleaders were given some solid time, for obvious reasons. The humor is inconsistent, but for a brisk movie in a well mined genre, it is decent enough and to me, has enough bright spots to make it worth a look.
As I said, the movie leans on the cast to help bolster the predictable, thin material and at the head of the pack here is Keanu Reeves. Reeves is a good choice for the chill, laid back Falco, as the character seems to be built around being likable and Reeves shows good charisma in the role. Gene Hackman knows how to play a coach of course, but here he opts to chew scenes and dial up his performance. So Hoosiers this isn’t, but I think he is a lot of fun here. He hams up the coach cliches and plays earnest when he needs to, but he is an obvious throwback to those old school coaches, the kind that simply can’t exist in the era of algorithms over gut feelings. The supporting ensemble is deep and filled with colorful performances, with Orlando Jones, Rhys Ifans, Faizon Love, Jon Favreau, Troy Winbush, and numerous others as Reeves’ teammates. I also found Brooke Langton to be solid as the tough cheerleader, while her stripper squadmates were quite humorous and steal a number of scenes. This is a been there, done that kind of movie, but if you like underdog sports movies and colorful characters, The Replacements is more than decent and worth a look.