Picks and Pans Review: The Replacements

updated 08/21/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/21/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

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

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