Keanu Reeves, Gene Hackman

Boy gets football, boy loses football, boy gets football. And the girl. That's pretty much the plot for The Replacements, an innocuous bit of gridiron guff about plucky quarterback Shane Falco (Reeves), who gets one last chance to redeem himself during an NFL players' strike, as well as a chance to romance the head cheerleader (Brooke Langton). Back when he was a college star, Falco choked during the 1996 Sugar Bowl and has been in virtual hiding ever since. Recruited by Hackman, new coach of the fictitious Washington Sentinels, he gets to lead a motley group of replacement players (including a deaf receiver, a sumo wrestler and a nutty Welsh soccer star, played by Notting Hill's Rhys Ifans) during the final three games of the season. (Some would call these guys scabs; the film, however, goes out of its way to portray the picketing players, whose jobs they're taking, as millionaire crybabies.)

Falco and his instant teammates quickly learn to play together and even manage to win. But does Falco have what it takes to clinch the big game, the one that could put his team in the playoffs? You don't have to be John Madden—who shows up along with fellow TV broadcaster Pat Summerall—to call this one.

And that's the problem with Replacements: It is as fake as artificial turf. The plot is predictable, the romance tepid, and character development is minimal. Instead, director Howard Deutch {The Odd Couple II) gives us repeated scenes of players punching each other out and Reeves looking soulful while a rock song blares on the soundtrack. So shallow is Replacements that it makes Any Given Sunday, Oliver Stone's recent bombastic pigskin epic, look deep.

Never have Reeves's acting limitations been so evident. He seems half asleep most of the time, is singularly inexpressive vocally and is always a beat behind everybody else, as if still waiting for someone to signal him from off-camera that it's time to speak. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: A fumble

Brenda Blethyn, Craig Ferguson

Featured attraction

Just say "yes" to this breezily amusing British comedy about a proper upper-class matron who resorts to growing marijuana as a way of digging herself out of debt. At the start, Grace Trevethan (Blethyn) knows as much about pot as a skunk knows about Chanel No. 5. But her philandering husband has just died, leaving her nearly $500,000 in the hole, which means she will lose her house if she doesn't pay up pronto. With the help of her weed-happy Scottish handyman (Ferguson, of The Drew Carey Show), avid gardener Grace tosses the orchids out of her greenhouse to make way for her cash crop.

ing, ruefully honest performance by Blethyn (Secrets & Lies) as a woman who grows right alongside her illegal crop. Ferguson, who cowrote the script, is a bumbling delight. (R)

Bottom Line: This widow's weed proves comically potent

Donal Logue, Greer Goodman

Dex (Logue) is an unlikely babe magnet. A kindergarten teacher with a sizable spare tire, he nonetheless scores easily with the ladies, reeling them in with a silky line of patter and a laid-back demeanor modeled on the innate cool of movie tough guy Steve McQueen. It is only when Dex falls for a wisely wary set designer (Goodman) that he finally learns to say what he means and mean what he says.

A refreshingly quirky romantic comedy, Steve features believable characters and smart, snappy dialogue that juggles references as diverse as Aristotle and TV's Six Million Dollar Man. Logue (The Patriot) owns the movie, deftly transforming himself from charming lout to sincere but still charming swain. (R)

Bottom Line: A hefty love story

Melanie Griffith; Stephen Dorff

A slightly over-the-hill Hollywood actress (Griffith, showing some of the slow-mo comic delivery that made her a star) comes to Baltimore to promote a film. A guerrilla director (Dorff), sworn enemy of the big studios, kidnaps her and puts her in his underground movie. Handheld cameras at the ready, he sends her into a local theater, where she waves a gun and disrupts Robin Williams's Patch Adams. The mayhem escalates until the daily "shoots" become literal exchanges of bullets with the cops.

As a director who has raised crude amateur moviemaking to an art (sort of), John Waters (Hairspray) is entitled to turn self-reverential. But Demented is just self-defeating: loud, ugly and, except for its running mockery of Patch Adams, unfunny. (R)

Bottom Line: De worst

>Chuck & Buck Check out this disquieting drama about a lollipop-sucking misfit (Mike White) who stalks his childhood best friend (Chris Weitz). (R)

Coyote Ugly A girl singer-songwriter (Piper Perabo) works at a Manhattan watering hole where the scantily clad female bartenders dance on the counter. With a premise like that, what do you expect? (PG-13)

Hollow Man Empty-headed. An ego-maniacal scientist (Kevin Bacon) turns himself invisible and unleashes the killer within. (R)

Nutty Professor II: The Klumps When it comes to Eddie Murphy, the more the merrier. Playing six different characters in an uneven sequel to his 1996 comedy hit, he practically steals the movie from himself. (PG-13)

Space Cowboys Years after missing out on the chance to be an astronaut, former Air Force pilot Clint Eastwood snags a space mission with his old teammates. At 70, Clint proves you can be mellow and still have a blast. (PG-13)

What Lies Beneath Michelle Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford play a seemingly happily married couple in a glossy thriller. Begins promisingly but deteriorates into clichéd, made-you-jump fare. (PG-13)

>Polly Draper

When actress Polly Draper, who played the wry city bureaucrat Ellyn Warren on the 1987-91 yuppie TV drama thirtysomething, started to write her first screenplay, The Tic Code, her husband vehemently objected. The story explores the friendship between a young jazz-piano prodigy (Christopher George Marquette) and an older jazz saxophonist (Gregory Hines), both of whom suffer from Tourette's syndrome, a neurological disorder that can trigger nervous tics and inappropriate outbursts. "He was very embarrassed about it," says Draper, 45, of her husband, jazz musician Michael Wolff, 48, who has a mild case of Tourette's. "He didn't want me to tell anyone he was the one who had inspired the movie."

Ultimately Wolff relented. Tic, which Draper produced and performed in (as the prodigy's mom), has since won awards at film festivals in Vancouver and Berlin and praise from the Tourette Syndrome Association. "We're all trying to hide from something about ourselves," says Draper, who lives with Wolff and their sons Nat, 5, and Alex, 2, in New York City. "By bringing that out in the open, we can learn to love or accept ourselves."

  • Contributors:
  • Tom Gliatto,
  • Jennifer Longley.