Welcome to Sport on the Silver Screen. In this series, I will be looking back over sports movies that I have recently watched/re-watched and giving my thoughts on them. Getting into the Schmoedown and starting to follow a number of the personalities from the show has given me a much greater appreciation of movies and seen me starting to watch more.
Being a fan of both movies and sports, I have taken the chance to start highlighting the sheer volume of sports movies out there. For each movie I will be giving some details about the movie and then a quick review, including a section giving a sports fan’s perspective of the action’s realism.
This series has been heavily influenced by Ben Bateman and Andrew Ghai of Action Industries, and as such I will be borrowing a couple of sections that they use in their weekly show Action Movie Anatomy: Fist-pump moment and favourite line. Be aware, there will be spoilers, but I will try to keep them to a minimum.
Today I will be looking at one of my favourite sports movies: The Replacements
Directed by Howard Deutch
Music by John Debney
Released in 2000
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Gene Hackman, Orlando Jones, Jon Favreau, Rhys Ifans, Brooke Langton
Synopsis: When the NFL players all go on strike with 4 games remaining in the regular season, the Washington Sentinels bring in head coach Jimmy McGinty (Hackman) to help the team make the playoffs. Rather than bring in semi-pros, McGinty chooses to bring in a hodgepodge of players he has watched through their careers to create the craziest team of replacements ever.
If you’re looking for a piece of cinematic greatness, this is not going to be it. What it is though, is a genuinely fun sports comedy movie. I can’t even remember exactly how I first found this movie, I just came across the DVD at the bottom of my box of DVDs one day, decided to watch it and fell in love and it is a feel-good movie that I will consistently return to.
Much like many ensemble team sports comedies, the members of the team we follow all fall into their distinct roles: Keanu as Shane Falco is the heart of the team who has his funny moments but is generally used as the more serious spine to keep the story on track along with Hackman, Rhys Ifans is the one trying to run from his past, while Jon Favreau and Orlando Jones are key to a lot of the comedic moments as they play a maniacal linebacker/SWAT officer and a shop assistant who speaks before he thinks most of the time. Langton is there primarily as a love interest, but I do appreciate that she is shown to be highly knowledgeable about the team and the sport, helping her feel like a character in her own right rather than just a female for the lead to fall for.
As with many sports movies, it is always interesting to see where the antagonists come into play. The opposition are antagonists to some degree – especially specific players at times and the way Dallas are portrayed as so superior to the Replacements in the final match – but the real antagonist is the usual Quarterback, Eddie Martel (Brett Cullen) and his group of striking players, which is a dynamic that I think works quite well in that he is there at the start, but dealing with him brings the replacements together and it is only when he returns for the final match that things start to go wrong for the team again.
For me, the comedy really hits in this movie. Orlando Jones, Jon Favreau and Rhys Ifans are all incredible comedic actors and Gene Hackman plays off everyone around him so well. All of this then allows for more poignant moments, much like Keanu’s “Quicksand” speech and the scene where McGinty has to tell him that Martel has returned to the team.
Finally, I just want to mention the music of the movie, as I have had the soundtrack downloaded for years. I really like what John Debney does in this movie, combining a soundtrack of existing songs and a score to create something that works really well in the moment. The score works really well to cover a lot off the more sports-heavy moments, while the use of existing songs has led to me really appreciating Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and discovering “Heroes” (They use a cover by Marc Bonilla & Font 48, but it led me to David Bowie’s version).
The movie utilises the actors playing the game as much as possible in the Baltimore Ravens’ stadium, which really helps in terms of making everything look realistic – though if you pay attention you will notice it leads to a number of inconsistencies as plays are shown from different angles.
The movie itself is very loosely based on the 1987 NFL strike and the Washington Redskins (who won all 3 games during the strike and went on to win the Super Bowl), but it is only really as far as the general premise and some similarities in the teams faced and the QB controversy. Archie Lee Harris, Jr. (who plays Wilson Carr, one of the striking players) was in fact one of the replacement players during the strike, playing tackle for the Denver Broncos in 3 games on their way to the Super Bowl.
Having real NFL coaches portraying the opposition head coaches and having the commentary duo of John Madden and Pat Summerall for the matches goes a long way to helping the action feel authentic, and it genuinely feels like the pair had fun with some of the commentary.
As someone who has been watching the NFL for years, though, there are a number of occasions where what we are seeing doesn’t quite match up with real life. Though I understand that a big part of it will be to keep the focus on our main characters, we do end up with circumstances where players are involved in plays where their position would usually not feature, such as a QB on a kickoff return and a linebacker and corner both involved in an offensive play. Similarly there are instances where the rules of the game are not quite as we see in the movie, such as having to call a timeout at the end of the play after fielding the kickoff (the clock would automatically stop) and the officials combining a number of penalties against the Sentinels on one play (in reality, it would have been just 1 penalty, though I wonder if any players would have been ejected, especially under modern rules).
Finally, I just need to mention the oddity that Keanu’s character Shane Falco is goes from starting QB to being cut when Martel returns to the team. QB is such a vital position, teams will always carry at least 2 on the roster, so from a sporting sense, Falco would just be benched rather than cut. Obviously, this wouldn’t have been as impactful narratively, but from a sporting perspective, it would have been easy enough to add a moment in where McGinty is forced to cut Falco as well as take back Martel.
Keanu’s character in this movie, Shane Falco, studied at Ohio State, which is also the alma mater of his character Johnny Utah in Point Break.
I almost went for Fumiko’s “fat-man score” against San Diego, but for me, the fist-pump moment is the bar brawl after the first match. We get to see all of our main characters from the team working together, while also bringing out the individuality of each character.
Falco’s “Quicksand” speech is definitely up there in showing how so quickly a situation can deteriorate when things start to go wrong, no matter what you do. Instead, I ended up going for an inspirational quote from one of the huddles in the final game.
“Pain heals. Chicks dig scars. Glory lasts forever.”
What did you think of this movie? Let me know in the comments. Until next time!