The White Shoe Irregular:
It was fun while it lasted.

In the Dark: The Replacements

Eric D. Snider

"The Replacements" is a film biography of the rowdy 1980s rock band whose seminal work was 1984's "Let It Be" album.

I'm lying, of course. No one cares about The Replacements anymore, since they disbanded in 1991 and frontman Paul Westerberg embarked on an insignificant solo career.

"The Replacements" is actually a sports movie. Or, more precisely, it's a lot of sports movies, and movies about things besides sports, pasted together so that it looks like a new product, sort of like a flashback episode of your favorite sitcom.

The film begins with the NFL players going on strike. We're led to understand that the strike is because the players are all greedy hotshots who only play for money — as opposed to most of us, who do our jobs simply because of the pleasure they bring us, usually throwing our paychecks into the bushes the moment we receive them so as not to taint our blissful workplace experiences with filthy lucre.

Anyway, there are only a few games left in the season, so team owner Crotchety Old Guy (Jack Warden) recruits legendary coach Tough But Fair (Gene Hackman, who evidently still hasn't been to his optometrist, because he's still squinting) and has him round up a bunch of wannabes to play the games.

The first-round draft pick in this lottery of losers is Falco, the Austrian musician whose 1986 hit "Rock Me Amadeus" made him a superstar, su-su-su-superstar. Then he disappeared and apparently took up football, as Coach Tough But Fair really wants him.

No, I'm lying again. Falco is the name of the character who is played by Keanu Reeves (well, to the extent that any character is actually played by Keanu Reeves). He was a promising young college quarterback until he completely biffed it in a bowl game a few years back, and now he's making a living scraping barnacles off boats (which, come to think of it, is probably what the "Amadeus" Falco is doing now, too).

He gives the standard "I'm retired" speech, and then he stops retiring and joins the team. Also on the team are Crazy Guy (Jon Favreau), Guy Who Doesn't Know What's Going On (Rhys Ifans), Nice Guy (David Denman) and Outrageous Guy (Orlando Jones), not to mention Several Guys Without Names Who Round out the Team Because We Didn't Want to Have to Come up with Eleven Different Characters. Some of these people have been literally cut-and-pasted out of other films; for example, one of them can clearly be seeing wearing a baseball cap from "Major League."

So the group of "scabs" (they prefer the more politically correct "coagulated blood chunks") starts practicing and they win some games, and lose some others, and get put in jail for getting into Standard Bar Fight (complete with Guy Being Slid Down the Bar on His Belly).

Falco starts to feel good about himself again (which takes some doing, considering he's Keanu Reeves), thanks in part to his great performance in the games, but also due to Love Interest (Brooke Langton), who really sees something in him (which takes some doing, considering he's Keanu Reeves). When Falco first asks Love Interest out on a date, she says, "I don't date football players." Then she dates him. The movie is full of zany turnarounds like that!

In another completely unsurprising surprise twist, the team's real quarterback, who of course is the biggest jerk of the lot, crosses the picket line and plays in the final game with the team of coagulated blood chunks. But will this professional athlete with years of experience be able to pull off a win? Or will it require the special touch of a man who scrapes barnacles for a living? I won't reveal the special magic shocker of a finale, but I will say that it's so utterly unlike anything you'd ever expect to have happen in a movie like this, it makes "The Sixth Sense" seem as predictable as your incontinent grandmother's bathroom schedule.

As far as football movies go, "The Replacements" is not as good as "Rudy," but it's a little better than "Gus" (the Disney film about the mule who kicked field goals). It's really like a puppy. It's cute and funny sometimes, and you like it. But then it does something annoying or stupid and you say, "Bad dog! Baaaaad dog!" And maybe you kick it just a little, because it really ticked you off, trying to pull a stunt like having all the football players burst into a thoroughly choreographed unchoreographed dance number, right out of nowhere. But when you kick it, it whimpers a little and instead of resenting you, it licks your hand and tries even harder to please you, doing something genuinely clever and amusing. And then you roll your eyes and say, "Oh, all right, c'mere, you little rascal," and you scratch the movie behind its ears and let it lick your face, and the two of you tumble around on the floor for a while, and all is right in the world. Just like in all the movies "The Replacements" has been assembled from, everything turns out OK in the end. There's no sense in overanalyzing it. As Paul Westerberg would say, "Let it be."