The JOE-DOWN Reviews ‘The Replacements’

All right, it is “Sports Month” here at the JOE-DOWN, where we will review sports movies. Why? Because it is summer, and I associate summertime with sports. And for the third installment of this theme for the month, Brown picked “The Replacements.”

The info:

The Movie: “The Replacements” (2000)

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Gene Hackman, Brooke Langton

Director: Howard Deutch

Plot Summary: (From Netflix) Losers, has-beens and never-weres. These guys aren’t a football dream team. They’re more like a nightmare

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 41 percent

Our take:

Brown: Well, my hope of getting to watch “Youngblood” proved to be too ambitious when neither one of us could find it streaming anywhere (rest assured, one day we will watch “Youngblood”). So it was time to bring on the scabs!

Here, we are whisked away to the year 2000, where Hollywood still thought of Keanu Reeves as a leading man because we only had one decent “Matrix” movie that came out. Fun fact: Keanu Reeves was in “Youngblood.” Between that factoid and the title of the movie, this was a perfect Replacement, horribly stupid pun intended.

So Froemming, initial thoughts before we go down the rabbit hole? Sorry, I’m getting my Keanu movies mixed up.

Froemming: Well, this film is certainly as forgettable as I remembered it. I saw it when it came out, by random chance my dad had rented it, and it made no impression. I saw it, and forgot all about it until you suggested this for the replacement of “Youngblood.” Also, we get one of those rare Jon Favreau acting performances. He is better off behind the camera.

Brown: To me, Jon Favreau is far from the worst thing in this film.

Right away, we get an opening with someone (we later find out is former All-American quarterback Shane Falco) scraping barnacles off a ship while Lit accompanies the opening credits. And man, is there a more generic-sounding 2000s rock band than Lit?

Froemming: That was literally the first note I took: The Lit song being the most late 90s/early aughts song I have ever heard in my life.

Also, we know right away that Falco has hit hard times because he lives on a boat. Nobody doing well in life lives like Sonny Crockett from “Miami Vice.”

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Brown: So three minutes into this movie (and I did stop to look at the timestamp), my biggest gripe with this movie comes up: The disgusting pro-owner message.

The whole movie revolves around a football players’ strike. Similar to real life, the players’ union wants more money and walks off the field for the final four games of the regular season. And because of this, they’re a bunch of weak prima-donnas who don’t care about anything but making their Ferrari payments. And who is making such claims? The billionaire owners, who don’t get to line their pockets with the money made from a bunch of grown men putting themselves through the equivalent of car crashes every Sunday.

Froemming: There are movies that deal with anti-union sentiments in ways that work, such as “On The Waterfront.” This film is not that. At all. And we see the players telling the press about how $5 million really isn’t a lot of money, painting these guys as money-grubbing monsters who have no reason to be playing football (this is literally brought up later in the film).

Brown: To jump ahead quick, the antagonist, Eddie Martel, is constantly brought up by anyone on the team that he has no heart and that’s why he’s not a good quarterback. Then near the end, we find out he’s won TWO Super Bowls. By actual playing standards, no, he’s not a good quarterback. He’s a GREAT quarterback. And he should be paid accordingly. In this movie, heart=getting your brains mashed into hummus for “love of the game.” Keep gettin’ ‘dem checks, Martel.

Froemming, get us back on the rails here.

Froemming: Well, because the players go on strike, the billionaire owner of the Washington Sentinels (why the NFL didn’t allow real team names in this movie remains a mystery) hires Jimmy McGinty, played by Gene Hackman, to round up a team of scabs to finish the season. We learn that McGinty was fired from the Sentinels years back and, like an aging cop in an 80s action movie, is brought back out of retirement because he is the only man for the job. And, for some reason, he has a roster of prospects for a replacement team, which baffled the hell out of me.

Brown: This is not the Washington Sentinels, it is the Baltimore Sentinels. They are not going to insult my intelligence on this one.

And yeah, McGinty has a list of players who he’s been keeping an eye on (despite being out of coaching for a spell). And the centerpiece of this is Shane “Footsteps” Falco, who was famous — infamous, rather — for bombing the 1996 Sugar Bowl. And if you’ll indulge me, I have a theory.

Froemming: By all means, proceed.

Brown: So Keanu Reeves has played a quarterback in two movies: “The Replacements” in 2000 as Shane Falco, and “Point Break” in 1991 as Johnny Utah. Both quarterbacks happen to have been All-Americans at THE Ohio State University but never panned out in the pros. So, Johnny Utah became an FBI agent and helped take down a group of bank robbers known as the Ex-Presidents. Then years later, Shane Falco emerges as the Washington Baltimore Sentinels’ quarterback after leading a low-key life as a barnacle scraper.

I think Shane Falco is Johnny Utah post-FBI in the witness protection program after his role in infiltrating the Ex-Presidents.

Froemming: Plausible, but I’m sticking to my theory this is just what happened to Ted Theodore Logan from “Bill and Ted” after all that time travel hijinks. He finally grew up.

Brown: Either way, Falco is a terrible choice. He says to McGinty that he suffered THREE concussions during that Sugar Bowl loss. There is no way, at all, that this should be the man to lead your professional football team.

So of all the replacements players, which one stuck out with you, Froemming?

Froemming: For some reason, it is Clifford Franklin (played by Orlando Jones). He is pretty much the comic relief in this film. Unfortunately Jones destroyed any goodwill I had for him as an actor after those “7-Up Yours” commercials he did shortly after this film. I worked at a T-shirt store that sold these shirts, and having people tell me to “make 7, Up yours” got real old real fast.

I think I am still bitter about that, because I kept muttering to myself “yeah, 7, Up yours, Franklin” as I watched this. How about you, Brown, and players stick out?

Brown: We get a couple interesting characters like our 80s cop stereotype (Daniel Bateman, played by Favreau), our soccer hooligan who becomes the kicker and probably has the best chance of a real NFL career (Nigel Gruff, played by Rhys Ifans) and the sumo lineman (Jumbo Fumiko, played by Ace Yonamine).

But, the most fascinating to me is Earl Wilkinson (played by Michael Jace). His background: He is a convicted felon who was granted work release by the governor of Maryland to play football.

First off, WHAT?! You let a serving felon, who was arrested for allegedly assaulting a police officer, play professional football? How is there not protests? How is there not a call for the governor’s head? Where is the reporter for the Washington Post Baltimore Sun doing bios on these replacement players and finding something amiss with the Sentinels’ release on the players?

I’d argue Wilkinson is the best player among the scabs, but it took until now for me to realize something: They have to make him play as “Ray Smith,” complete with long sleeves and a dark visor so people don’t realize former pro defensive back Earl Wilkinson, the guy who assaulted a police officer, is on the field during the middle of his prison term.

Froemming: You know, I was so distracted by my seething hatred of Orlando Jones and 7-Up, this whole plot point glided right over me. I thought it was messed up, certainly, but I was too busy having my own personal hell, ‘nam-style flashbacks of working in a mall during this part of the film.

Also, while I liked the Nigel character, he felt more like a side character from “Trainspotting” than a character in a film about a replacement football team.

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Brown: We also get a glimpse of Falco’s love interest in Annabelle, who leads the Sentinels’ cheerleading squad. At the same time the players are trying to come together, Annabelle is holding cheerleading tryouts. You have four games left, how do you not have a full squad? Are the other cheerleaders on strike, too? Because that makes sense. There is no cheerleader union.

Froemming: I was going to ask you about that as I watched this, because I have never heard of cheerleaders also going on strike. And they don’t even explain this plot point in the movie. Annabelle is just trying to get a cheerleader team together. So, naturally, she throws in the towel and hires strippers. Yup, this happens in the film.

Now, the team shows up for practice and are met with protesters throwing eggs at their bus (I have doubts that many sports fans would be this invested in a team to the point they show up and throw eggs at them). But the most bizarre part is when Falco shows up and the regular team that’s on strike are just hanging out in the parking lot, so they can flip his truck over.

These men have way too much time on their hands. Also, instead of calling the cops and reporting this, Falco just goes to practice.

Brown: Well, they aren’t fans protesting, it’s the players outside the stadium protesting the scabs’ arrival to practice.

And yes, the flipping of Falco’s sad truck gets old pretty quick, but there’s a part of me that doesn’t blame the real players. Yes, they’re angry at the wrong person, but Falco is trying to take someone else’s job because they dare asked to be paid more from a bunch of greedy owners.

Which, another plot point: They need to play the last four games for the fans, for the title, etc. Nope… the games are being played because there’s money to be made from home games. Quit the “love of the game” crap, movie.

Froemming: I think you need to settle down, Comrade Brown, you’re sounding like a communist here.

Anyway, the team is going through growing pains of working together. Because they are a bunch of strangers, there is no cohesion among them. And McGinty points this out, saying teams usually have years to get to that point, and they have a week.

I know nothing about sports, Brown, but that sounds extreme on both ends: Do teams actually get years to get to a point like that, and I don’t think there’s a chance in hell what we see in the film could also happen where they are a strong unit after one game.

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Brown: The core of a team will usually stay together for years, but there is a lot of turnover in sports. I’d say that even if someone just got signed, they have OTAs, training camp and four preseason games to gain camaraderie before playing the first game that matters. So, McGinty’s speech is a half-truth.

So we get to Game 1 and things aren’t going great for the Sentinels,who lose and now have to win three in a row to get to the playoffs in hopes of making money winning a championship.

Froemming: Well, we see what brings the team together. They go out and get hammered at the bar after their loss. And guess who shows up? Those lazy team members on strike (again, do these men not have a social life outside of this game). And they start a bar brawl! And they get their asses kicked (except from Franklin, who cowers behind the jukebox). But, only the scabs get arrested, because they have less money and no agents/PR people to get them out of a jam like that.

Brown: But there’s one thing the replacement players do have: Gloria Gaynor and some choreographed dance.

Yeah, this was the big eye-rolling moment for me. There’s plenty of tropes in this movie but this scene is just SOOOOO early 2000s.

And, to get back to my earlier rant about Wilkinson: Wouldn’t him getting arrested in a bar fight be a violation of his work release? He should be back in prison.

Froemming: Yup, around this time films loved adding a 1970s song number. This and that scene in “Almost Famous” where they sing Elton John are examples of what I find grating of that era of film. But hey, McGlinty shows up to bail them out. McGlinty is only enabling their poor decisions, and living vicariously through them with that bar brawl (he alludes to this when he says he wishes he could have been there). My point is: McGlinty is a terrible coach.

Brown: Who are we to argue with results? Game 2 comes around and the Sentinels are able to pull off a come-from-behind victory to keep themselves in playoff contention. And all that requires is a record 65-yard field goal from Nigel. But some things are more important than football, and Falco decides to meet with Annabelle at her bar.

They have their first kiss to The Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” a song about a stalker. Good omen for this relationship, folks.

Froemming: This is one of the most forced relationships I have seen on film. It’s like they just threw it in there for good measure or something. There really isn’t any chemistry between these two characters (it is tough anyway because Keanu only has one emotion in his acting bag: Looking confused). But, sure, they kiss and we forget about this for the most part until it becomes handy again later on in the film.

Which is soon, because once the team is on a roll, Martel crosses the picket line and the billionaire owner wants him back in the game. Thus, tossing Falco to the curb.

Brown: Martel comes into the locker room to passive-aggressively rub it in Falco’s face. Then when Falco’s about to leave, Martel tells him that Annabelle deserves better than Falco. He’s a sinking ship. Wait, what?! When has Martel ever shown any interest, or any emotion, for Annabelle? Why the hell does he care? He’s an actual player, it’s in his contract that he can’t fraternize with cheerleaders.

Froemming: Yup, that was really confusing and was the only appropriate time for Keanu to break out his “looking confused” acting gift.

So, Falco skips out on his date with Annabelle to break the news to his team. They are obviously not happy about this. Also, it seems like a terrible decision because this team just beat the odds in becoming a winning unit in a week, and now that’s out the window with a new quarterback to get to know.

Brown: Now, in the beginning of the movie, didn’t McGinty have Edward O’Neil (the owner, played by Jack Warden) promise him that O’Neil would have no involvement in personnel or coaching? Not only that, he didn’t trust the man’s word. He wanted it in writing.

O’Neil is clearly in violation of that. McGinty should sue.

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Froemming: The agreement was for when the players were on strike I believe, so that’s the gray legal area, I’d imagine, because Martel is no longer on strike. Either way, McGinty has a winning unit and O’Neil is ruining the victory he wanted in the first place. It really is a baffling moment in this film.

Brown: The strike ends AFTER the game, but whatever, movie logic.

With Martel at the helm, the Sentinels struggle and he’s at odds with McGinty. Before halftime, the coach is asked what the team is missing, and he says “Heart.” And cue Keanu Reeves.

Froemming: We are lead to believe that Martel, who has won TWO SUPER BOWLS, simply cannot get it together with this ragtag team of misfits. Maybe he isn’t the problem. But here comes Falco to save the day. Also, how did he just stroll into a football stadium like that? He’s not on the team anymore, did he have to buy a ticket?

Brown: This bunch of overachieving losers is Falco’s, not Martel’s! And after a “Nothing to lose” speech from McGinty (I’ll give him this: He might not be a good coach, but he seems like a good motivator), Falco and the Sentinels take the field. But not before Falco makes out with Annabelle.

The first play from Falco? Fight the entire Dallas lineup. That should have been movie over: Washington Baltimore forfeits. At the very least, half the team should have been ejected. It was nothing but cheap shots.

Froemming: Hey, it worked and nobody got punished for it. Good job, Falco! Anyway, Falco starts rallying the team, getting Cochran a touchdown he promised him earlier in the film, but at a cost. Dude gets his leg injured. But, it gets the team closer to tying the game up so it can go into overtime. Enter the over-the-top side story to Nigel, who sees some street toughs he owes money to in the stadium. Not only does he have an amazing kicking leg, he must also have the eyes of an eagle to spot those guys.

Brown: OK, I didn’t get this. Yes, we see him as a hooligan who gets into trouble, so I get that for Nigel. What I don’t get is how does he still not owe them after the play unfolds. Nigel hints to Falco that he’s going to miss the game-tying kick on purpose or else the mafia will take his pub. So, Falco takes the ball and runs it in (before it’s hilariously called back for holding. I liked that). Nigel gets his arm broken, but thanks Falco for getting him out of that mess.

Uhh, if the Sentinels win, Nigel, I think you’re still in trouble. I don’t think their bet was so exact they told a bookie that “The kicker misses the game-tying kick.” I doubt Gray’s Sports Almanac would give such an accurate take of a game.

But hey, there’s tropes to follow, so here’s Falco giving the team his signature speech.

Froemming: Yup, and Falco gives Pam Beesly’s future boyfriend on “The Office” his chance to shine (how you and I, fans of “The Office” not mention this until the end of this review is truly a crime) and he makes the game-winning play. Way to go, Roy! Now, your bright future is set to work at Dunder Mifflin.

Brown: Hey now, I thought it was kind of cool that Washington Baltimore had a deaf tight end, and he’s the one that ends up winning the game for the Sentinels. He was one of the most likable characters in this movie. And soon, Jim Halpert’s snark will ruin his life.

And we can wrap this up quick: The team celebrates, Falco gets another makeout session with Annabelle, we get another “I Will Survive” dance number and the movie just kind of ends. Somehow, this is OK with me, since the movie talks about having that one moment of glory. There was no more story to tell. We saw their moment of glory.

Froemming: Let’s flip this sad truck of a film over to recommendations.

WOULD YOU RECOMMEND

Brown: If you actually want a good movie, no. There’s too many logical things that drive me nuts and it’s not very original. The only way I’m OK with people watching this is on a rainy Saturday and it happens to show up on TBS or something.

Froemming: If you want to sit down and watch a movie you will probably forget about immediately afterward, then this is the film for you. Otherwise, it really offers nothing new and exciting to the sports film genre. I wouldn’t recommend this film.

Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down: