The Replacements

Directed by Howard Deutch
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Gene Hackman, Jack Warden, Brooke Langton, Jon Favreau, Rhys Ifans, Orlando Jones.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some crude sexual humor and language.

Review by Matt Heffernan <>
August 11, 2000

I must admit that I was less than enthusiastic about reviewing a Keanu Reeves film for the first time. His filmography is quite unique: high-quality productions that usually collapse under his immense mediocrity. Even The Matrix suffered after a brilliant start. Only Speed was able to maintain a level of intensity high enough to overshadow Keanu's lack of talent and screen presence. Another film has miraculously accomplished this goal, this time by surrounding him with many interesting and entertaining characters, allowing him to be ignored in a leading role.

In this film, Reeves plays Shane Falco, a former Ohio State quarterback whose unimpressive showing in the Sugar Bowl cost him a professional career. His luck changes when the pros go on strike, and the teams are scrambling for replacement players. Gene Hackman plays McGinty, a one-time professional coach who is given a chance to head the Washington Sentinels, by none other than the owner (Jack Warden) who fired him before. McGinty has his own idea of what makes a good football team, and his vision includes Falco as the quarterback and on-field leader of the team.

His other recruits include a combustible cop (Jon Favreau), a Welsh soccer player (Rhys Ifans), a store clerk (Orlando Jones) who can run faster than anybody (only catching proves beyond his grasp), and a pair of brothers (Faizon Love and Michael Taliferro) who are brilliant offensive guards, but only if they play on the same line. There are four games left in the season, and the Sentinels need three wins out of this crew to make it to the playoffs, where the pros will take over again.

After they lose their first game out, there are no surprises left. This is a typical Hollywood comedy, and a happy ending is guaranteed. Also obligatory is a love interest for the lead -- the replacement head cheerleader played by Brooke Langton (in the world of this film, a strike includes coaches and cheerleaders, for a reason that is never explained). What really sets this film apart from the rest, however, are those wonderful characters I talked about. Reeves can remain completely uninteresting while Favreau, Ifans, and Jones steal every scene. Not to mention Hackman, who plays the part of a coach given a second chance with incredible grace (he did, after all, get whatever preparation he needed in Hoosiers).

Vince McKewin's screenplay gave the cast plenty of funny material and inspirational moments to keep the film moving. I found myself really wanting the team to win, and it was bittersweet when they had to hand over the ball after the regular season. It's simple, but it works. The Replacements provides the kind of audience-pleasing atmosphere that the studios crave, and Warner Bros. can count on another hit from their little surfer dude (who managed to go through the whole film without uttering "whoa").

Of course, the studio will link the film's success to Reeves, and not the rest of the cast, which is a shame. His price tag will go up, and his more-talented costars will have to settle for leading roles in indies, or more of the same.

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The Replacements (2000)

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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan