Junkfood Cinema: The Replacements

By  · Published on August 5th, 2011

Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema; lords of the gridiron…or at least the waffle iron. Strap on your helmet and conceal any benefits you received from agents during college because you have just been drafted to the NFL; the Nefarious Film Lovers…League. Ok, so it’s the NFLL, shut up!

Every week we tackle a bad movie to the roaring delight of over eight people. And we don’t just tackle the movie, we tackle it like we’re Ray Lewis with a playoff game on the line and the ref’s just been stricken with blindness. But then, just before the internet starts throwing penalty flags at us, we enter free agency, join up with the film, and use our unabashed love for it to help this underdog win a championship of warped film appreciation.

Finally, after months of heated debate that ultimately muddied the issue and pushed us closer to the edge of complete anarchy…the NFL lockout is over. We can finally stop troubling ourselves with petty nuisances like defaulting on our national debts and get back to what really matters: overpaid sweaty guys knocking the snot out of each other. In honor of this jubilant occasion, I decided to run an all-out blitz on a film from 2000 whose premise eerily mirrors recent events.

This week’s play: The Replacements

What Makes It Bad?

It stars Keanu Reeves. The fact that this sentence is a statement of fact and not a wild flight of drug-addled fancy demonstrates our general failure as a human race. But to his credit, his performance in The Replacements is strikingly wooden. It’s not entirely his fault. There was a great deal asked of him in this film. Not only was he forced to walk and talk like a human person, but they made him throw a football, woo a cheerleader, and participate in line-dancing usually reserved for only mildly drunk wedding reception attendees. That’s a lot for one six-foot doorknob to handle. But at least someone was nice enough to bring a fog machine and a giant “glamor shots” fan to his first practice so he could run onto the field like the football hero he is…even though he looks like he would be utterly befuddled by an electric football game.

Keanu is surrounded by a miscreant group of football castoffs played by a miscreant group of castoff actors. They are hired as replacement players when the actual players, and the cheerleaders, go on strike just four games before the end of the season. How the players going on strike in any way would inspire the cheerleaders to picket as well is beyond my reasoning, and since the film refuses to let us in on how the league managed to allow a strike to occur before the end of a season, the logistics are left up to us to postulate. The point is that fans are subsequently stuck rooting for Ted “Theodore” Logan, the director of Iron Man, and Orlando Jones; the latter should have been wearing 05 as his number seeing as it corresponds with the expiration date on his career.

This group of scab players is coached by none other than Gene Hackman. Hackman is a great actor who can play anything, but he is a lousy football coach. He seems to confuse any form of general speaking with giving a pep talk. For example, prior to their first game he asserts to his players , “don’t let anyone tell you what you’re doing here doesn’t matter…because you’re getting paid” YEAH! LET’S GO! MONEY DEFINES PASSION! That’s the sort of logic that lead to the necessity for these replacement players in the first place, coach. Also, his approach to play-calling borders on the decision-making capacity of a severely concussed individual. Let’s prove we’re not to be trifled with by coming out of half-time and brawling with the defensive players and getting backed up 45 yards in penalties so we have to take a snap in our own endzone. You know what else would have proven you were serious? SCORING A GODDAMN TOUCHDOWN WHILE IN GOOD FIELD POSITION!

Hey, but at least there’s the head cheerleader to serve as the love interest. By that I mean she serves as proof that Keanu is interested in love as a concept but has absolutely no idea what it is or how it works. They have no chemistry whatsoever and watching them fall in love is like watching two drunken frat boys stumble closer and closer to a clearly marked drainage ditch, knowing they have every opportunity to avoid it, before they eventually topple into it. Her ability to hire strippers to distract opposing players is decidedly stronger than her judge of character. At one point she says to Keanu, “you’re the first player I’ve seen who cares more about his teammates than he does himself” and “that was a great thing you did last night.” Yeah, that thing he did was punch a guy who punched him which started a bar fight…how does that translate into caring about others more than himself?!

To try and confuse us into believing we’re merely watching bad football players instead of bad actors, John Madden has a rather sizable role in The Replacements. But Madden is not in this movie to give it any shred of pro sports street cred. Instead, in true Madden fashion, he narrates each and every one of the events of each game as elementarily as possible. The goal here, as it apparently is every Sunday on Fox, is to ensure that even blind people who hail from subterranean cultures on distant planets – where hockey is the only sport in existence – can understand football.

To top it all off, The Replacements features terrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrible music; deserving of every seemingly superfluous ‘r.’ The music fails on two fronts. The recognizable songs are absolutely cringe-inducing and it’s painfully obvious that “music supervisor” on this film was synonymous with “guy who has a copy of Jock Jams ‘98.” Not to be out-done, the score of the film seems entirely ignorant of the action on screen. Case in point, the moment wherein the music rises to a crescendo and reaches it during an insert shot of a cheerleader touching her ass instead of, say, the big hit that ended the incredibly important play.

One last minor gripe I have with the film is that it’s major third act conflict makes not one damn lick of sense. Shane is forced to sit out the last game because Washington’s regular quarterback Martel crosses the picket line. It is established that the strike is about to end so this will be the last game for the replacements. So Martel then proceeds to lazily run the wrong plays and even throw the ball to the sidelines every now and again. Wait…what? Why did he bother to cross the picket line just to come in and intentionally play like shit? There is no mention made of a pending trade deal or gambling scenario so why be the one guy from the original Sentinels to cross a picket line early just to come in and blow a shot at another title?! Even if you subscribe to the “he’s just a douche” mentality, even a douche doesn’t work against his own success. Put it back on the shelf, I don’t buy it. It’s a plot device so convenient that you actually get a free Slurpee with every viewing.

Why I Love It!

I love football. There I said it. We’ve been flirting for awhile, empty promises of coupling were exchanged, but I am finally ready to admit that I am smitten with the game of football. Despite all the flaws on display in The Replacements, and continue to believe me when I say they are numerous, it is still a football movie by God and will therefore command my attention any time it is on TV. So yes, there are vomit jokes and nonsensical choreographed dance scenes, and Orlando Jones doing the opposite of comedy, but passes are still completed, players are still leveled by defenders, and touchdowns are still scored. I can’t help myself, it’s an affliction. I cannot divulge how many times I would have watched this film should the lockout have impeded the start of the NFL season…because football wouldn’t respect me in the morning.

The Replacements has a weird Dirty Dozen meets Police Academy feel to it that I wholeheartedly love. It’s all about the assembly of the rag-tag group of loose cannons to do the job. The owner of the Washington Sentinels is like that pesky “lady mayor” they keep referencing in Police Academy who lowers the admission standards and therefore the “rejects” start flooding in; something we here at FSR can appreciate. It also features a lot of the same casually racist humor that seemed at least more forgivable in Police Academy. If this film had been made in the mid 80s with a better cast, it would have been phenomenal. I can just see Michael Winslow in the Orlando Jones role; creating the sound of a whistle with his mouth to confuse defenders. Or Steve Guttenberg as Shane Falco lending credence to the “if Steve Guttenberg is a better actor than you then it’s time to quit” theory. And just try running the ball against Bubba “Hightower” Smith, I know you won’t! Rest in peace big guy, this article is dedicated to you.

Junkfood Pairing: Bundt Cake

Inspired by an Orland Jones joke, and believe me this is a rare occurrence, I decided to make this week’s snack item a linebacker-sized portion of bundt cake. Now, as “bundt” sounds like “bunt” and “bunt” is a baseball term, the aptness of this week’s junkfood is seriously in question. But if you screamed “BUNT” from the stands at a football game for all four quarters, you would be demonstrating exactly as much actual football knowledge as did anyone involved in producing, writing, or performing The Replacements.

Walk off that turf toe and read more Junkfood Cinema

Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.