In 2000, I actually saw the film The Replacements in the theater. It is a film starring Keanu Reeves, Gene Hackman, and Brooke Langton. And it tells the story of a group of scab players during a football players strike. At the time, I thought it was good enough. It’s just a light comedy that truly does have some funny moments. And I like Reeves and Hackman. And Langton is both a pretty and capable actor. I should have just kept those memories and not revisited the film. What I just listed is still true of the film. But everything else swamps the little that is good.
If I wanted to, I could easily crank out a couple thousands words about the truly vile treatment of unionization in this film. It’s still amazing to me that the default America position on unions is exactly what the power elite want. In the film, the players are going on strike because the multi-million dollar players are not making enough money, “Do you know how much insurance is on a Ferrari, mother?!” That’s an exact quote and that is the the essence of the film. Other than at the very end of the film, the owners are presented as poor victims of the evil players’ salary demands.
So the film is portrayed just as the Walton family wants: the powerful union players and the poor but scrappy non-union players who are just looking for a chance. And that’s fine, except of course, that the truly powerful people are not even mentioned in this pairing. People come to stadiums built with public money to see the union players, but it is the billionaire owners who make the lion share of the money. And according to America, the bad guys are the ones who the people are paying to see. Charming.
The treatment of unionization would be enough to ruin the film for me. But what really makes the film stand out is that it is as tired as anything I’ve ever seen. It is nothing but cliched characters put in cliched situations. There’s the big black gangsta who holds his gun sideways, the foul-mouthed, chain-smoking Welsh kicker, and skinny coward who runs very fast. (For the record, someone that fast would be employed as a safety, regardless of his catching abilities.) The film ends with the replacements winning the the last game of the season on the last play and getting into the playoffs, even though none of them will be playing in the playoffs because the strike is now over. It also has a very boring romance that mostly consists of one kiss — played embarrassingly for comedy — followed by a forced third act problem where Reeves stands up Langton, apparently because Reeves was taking advice from the evil unionized quarterback.
The funniest thing in the film is the cheerleader tryouts. And my understanding was that these were not scripted. Female actors were asked to come in and do bits. The best one was a woman dressed up to look more or less like a librarian. She then very awkwardly cheered, “Let’s here it for the quarterback. Hey-hey, ho-ho! Could anyone play better? Say-say, no-no! Tackle, tackle, tackle, tackle, tack, tack, tack! Show those other boys what they lack, lack, lack! If I gave you a dollar, you could keep most of the change, ’cause all I really want is a quarter back!” It is by far the most charming thing in the film.
The main thing I felt watching the film was battered. The film pushes the viewer from one bit of plot to another — at its best, it marks time from one gag to the next. But most of the comedy takes place in the first half of the film. By the second half, the film takes itself more seriously, although I truly can’t imagine why. Another thing I can’t understand is why Reeves and Hackman would want to be in this film. Did Hackman need to buy a new home somewhere? Did Reeves need more anti-stalking equipment? That’s all I can think of, because clearly they couldn’t have thought much of the film going in.
Of course, my normal standard for a film is whether it works; does it succeed in doing what the filmmakers set out to do? In a sense, it did. But that’s just because the filmmakers were clearly trying to make a commercial piece of garbage without working very hard. But that is such an ignoble effort that I think the the normal rules don’t apply. Anyway, the film doesn’t really work as an entertainment. It has its moments, but mostly the viewer feels dragged through it. And as it is, the film barely made back its production costs during its original release — indicating that on the “commercial” front, the film didn’t succeed.