Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Replacements

Since I marked the beginning of baseball season earlier this year with a review of the hardball classic, For Love of the Game, I am marking the beginning of football season this year with a review of one of my favorite goofball football films, 2000’s The Replacements (trailer). I watched this many times around the turn of the century in the years following its release, but it has probably been a decade since I busted it out, and I was ecstatic that it got a long overdue BluRay release just a few months ago. Needless to say, it did not stay in the backlog box for all that long.

Remember how a few years ago the NFL almost went on strike and the sports world nearly went bonkers after we ended up missing only one preseason game and ESPN went out of their way interviewing arena laborers about how they were going to make a living by missing their NFL gameday paydays? Meanwhile the NHL went on strike for about a third of their season later that year and no one really bothered to blink an eye at them. Anywho, The Replacements throws a what if scenario out there if a strike really happened midseason and the league ended up using replacement players to finish out the season. Since the NFL does not want to envision a strike ruining a season, they or the NFLPA did not endorse this film, so instead we get a fake NFL logo representing this fictitious league and fake teams ala Any Given Sunday, and the starring team of this film is the Washington Sentinels. If the Redskins do wind up getting renamed, I vote they change it to the Sentinels in honor of this legendary sports film, much like if the Chiefs are forced to rename then I want them renamed the Chefs after that legendary Snickers commercial.

The film opens with the Sentinels tracking down former coach Jimmy McGinty (Gene Hackman) out of retirement to finish out the season, and we get a very nice opening montage of the ragtag group of washouts and former pros he assembles to play out the rest of the Sentinels’ season. Notable recruits include the super fast smooth talker Clifford Franklin (Orlando Jones), proud cop and ticking time bomb Daniel Bateman (a post-Swingers, but pre-Iron Man Jon Favreau) , out on work release Earl Wilkinson (Michael Jace) and soccer hooligan Nigel Gruff (Rhys Ifans). Heading up these clowns is former league washout, Shane Falco (Keanu Reeves). This features Keanu who is just a year removed from the breakout success of The Matrix and is about to have a hell of a run in films in front of him. Another nice touch is NFL broadcasting legends John Madden and Pat Summerall play themselves and call the action. I completely forgot they are in the film, and while both are in the twighlight of their careers here, they are still a hoot to listen call the action.

Of course it would not be a sports film without a love interest, and head of Sentinels’ cheerleaders Brooke Langton (Annabelle Farrell) takes that role. She has a unique side story where apparently the cheerleaders went on strike too and she winds up recruiting her own ragtag bunch of replacement cheerleaders who are featured prominently throughout the film showcasing their talents.

If you have seen the classic Major League baseball films, then you will know what to expect out of The Replacements because this follows their formula almost verbatim. New misfit group of players is hastily assembled, new group of players have disastrous practice and opening game to their season, then all of a sudden the team clicks and they start to get along and win some games! A last minute conflict is introduced in this film in the form of some former players on strike crossing the picket lines and replacing Falco and leading the team to a disastrous first half in the precious final game of the film before Falco returns to save the day. It is predictable, but it works and I love it. There are a handful of scenes that do not hold up as well as I initially remembered and catered more towards then-17-year-old Dale at the time than present day 32-year old Dale, but for the most part The Replacements was a joy to relive.

Some quick highlights that I want to point that stand the test of time is a classic bar brawl with the replacement players and striking players that leads to Orlando Jones’ character leading up a legendary prison dance scene set to “I Will Survive.” Whenever I hear that song I still think of that classic dance scene in what will probably be for better or worse, the highlight of Orlando Jones acting career. I want to give props to Mark Ellis who is the sports coordinator and is responsible for all the well shot football scenes of the film. He has a nice small role in this film as the San Diego head coach, and it was nice seeing him go bezerk at some of the questionable tactics the Sentinels use against him.

The film has an interesting arrangement used for the soundtrack. It was actually what director Howard Deutch touches on frequently during his solo commentary for the film. 2000 was a point of transition from the alt-rock era of pop into hip/hop and so we get a mesh of both genres along with classic selections like “I Will Survive” making up the soundtrack. The rest of the extra features are carried over from the initial DVD release with no additional extras for the BluRay which was a little bit of a bummer. There are two short behind-the-scenes pieces, Making the Plays is a nine minute piece where the stars talk about the training they endured to get them football-ready for the film and some interesting stories to hear on how they shot the football scenes during halftime for games for the Ravens. Making the Replacements is a 15 minute quick overview of the film introducing the cast and crew along with a more detailed look at that oh-so-sweet prison dance scene.

The BluRay format debuted in 2006, and it is a shame it took nine years for The Replacements to land there. I do not think it could have been too much work for Warner Bros. to track down several of these stars for a quick 10-minute retrospective piece on The Replacements, or assemble a few of them for a bonus 15-year anniversary commentary, but I guess I should be thankful that Warner eventually decided to release on BluRay at all. Regardless, while predictable this is one of my favorite sports comedies. If this went under your radar back then, then now is the perfect time to experience it in time for the NFL season.

Other Random Backlog Movie Blogs

12 Angry Men (1957)
21 Jump Street
Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie
Atari: Game Over
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Bounty Hunters
Cabin in the Woods
Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Clash of the Titans (1981)
Clint Eastwood 11-pack Special
Dirty Work
Field of Dreams
Fight Club
The Fighter
For Love of the Game
Good Will Hunting
Hercules: Reborn
Man of Steel
Marine 3 & 4
Mortal Kombat
The Replacements
Rocky I-VI
Running Films Part 1
Running Films Part 2
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Source Code
Star Trek I-XII
Take Me Home Tonight
The Tooth Fairy 1 & 2
Veronica Mars
The Wrestler (2008)

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