Before we dive into our first movie, I need you to feast your eyes on the above photo and brace yourselves for some world-view shattering information: This picture is on the cover of March’s UK Esquire magazine, meaning it was taken in the Year of Our Lord 2017, meaning that in this photo Keanu Reeves is 52 years old. Once you’re done making the Home Alone face, let’s begin.
The Replacements is the embodiment of the perfect 90s movie, with the standard arc involving a hero undertaking an endeavor, facing a stumbling block, then overcoming the obstacle for a feel-good ending. It also has an amazing soundtrack that includes classic 1990s hit songs such as Bust a Move, Gonna Make You Sweat, Good Vibrations, and Unbelievable. Did I mention there are not one but TWO scenes in which the actors dance to I Will Survive?
Now, let me be clear. I’m not arguing that this is a great movie per se, but I am saying that I very much miss the days when movies were fun. Maybe you enjoy watching a mumbly-mouth Casey Affleck mope around the Boston suburbs, and that’s okay, because those are your life choices. I personally prefer to watch things that make me forget about the despair of the human condition, and The Replacements fits that bill.
Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
The movie opens with a mid-season strike in the NFL that forces teams to find new players to replace the greedy pros who aren’t content with the millions of dollars they make to throw around a football. This is the sentiment pushed by the movie, which also vilifies the owners, but to a lesser extent. Let’s not get bogged down in the complexities of revenue distribution and the fact that athletes getting paid tons of money can still be making less than they deserve because of the unseemly amount of profit generated by professional sports. They call it HollyWOOD, not HollyREALISTIC.
Some teams go the route of using semi-pros to fill their rosters, but the Washington Sentinels hire former coach Gene Hackman to recruit the rag-taggiest group of underdogs which includes a current felon and a chain smoking Welshman with a gambling problem. The final piece of the puzzle is our hero Shane Falco, played by our hero Keanu Reeves. Shane was a star college quarterback who collapsed under pressure in a bowl game and ended up cleaning barnacles off boats for a living.
Under Falco’s leadership and new-found confidence, the team manages to win enough games to get into the playoffs even though these “replacements” will lose their spots to the returning pros after the seminal victory. Along the way, Falco finds love with the head cheerleader, who had to replace her squad with “dancers” from the local strip club because for some reason the other cheerleaders went on strike, too, even though they only make FIFTY BUCKS A GAME I mean what the hell, ladies, someone call Gloria Allred already, damn.
We also get a quintessential sports movie inspirational speech from Falco: “Pain heals. Chicks dig scars. Glory lasts forever.” Tell me that doesn’t make you feel invincible.
I now use this speech to psych myself up for parties and grocery shopping.
This Is the Important Part!
The real story of this movie isn’t found in the plot, but in the behind-the-scenes anecdotes. At the time of filming, 35-year-old Keanu was experiencing a career resurgence on the back of the successful first Matrix installment, which led to a significant boost in his salary. But unlike the fictional NFL players, he didn’t care about money and gave up a reported 90% of his pay to free up the budget to bring on Gene Hackman.
There are enough quotes from the cast and crew about Keanu’s professionalism and commitment to the role to add thousands of words to this already-too-long review. So take my word for it that everyone was bowled over by the months he spent training to realistically portray a talented quarterback. He also impressed the cast by being down-to-earth, friendly, and approachable. Production brought in a fancy trailer commensurate with his star status, and he quietly sent it back in exchange for modest accommodations equal to those given to the supporting actors. Our boy is wicked humble.
In conclusion, I am neither Gene Siskel nor Roger Ebert — I think I’ve proved that today — and I’m not in the business of using my thumbs to assign an arbitrary value to things. But I can give The Replacements my endorsement as a fun sports movie that has a lot of Keanu screen time and doesn’t make me regret having survived the Y2K bug. A++ would watch again.
Let me know in the comments if I’ve successfully convinced you to watch this film. And please share with the group which sports movies are near-and-dear to your heart.