Hoosiers (1986), with its sentimentality and saccharine characterizations, wrote the book on the contemporary sports drama. Every subsequent “feel-good” sports flick, from Remember The Titans (2000) to Friday Night Lights (2004), has followed the Hoosiers formula religiously. A major component of the critical acclaim and enduring popularity of Hoosiers is Gene Hackman’s definitive performance of the cantankerous coach with a heart of gold. It is for this reason that Hackman, as well as his Hoosiers character, was cast in The Replacements (2000).
But importing Hackman and his Hoosiers legacy doesn’t make The Replacements a drama nor a bittersweet tragedy. Hackman and all he entails is in The Replacements to add a degree of seriousness and legitimacy to the onslaught of broad comedy that is the defining attribute of The Replacements. The focus of The Replacements is the relationship between quarterback Keanu Reeves and head cheerleader Brooke Langton as well as Reeves’ relationship with his Dirty Dozen-esque team of misfits (Orlando Jones, Jon Favreau, Rhys Ifans, etc).
While the dramatic beats of The Replacements come from the Hoosiers playbook the film struggles with its main objective: comedy. The Replacements should have been a great anti-sports parody that lampoons the toxic culture of sports fandom, the wild excesses of the players, and the corporate machinations behind the major teams. Instead The Replacements is content to settle for the low hanging fruit. Comedy, or what is meant to pass as such, is entirely predicated on sports genre stereotypes, racist caricatures, and casual misogyny.
There is absolutely nothing unique or particularly good about The Replacements. Everything one could imagine The Replacements to be based on its poster and plot synopsis is exactly what is delivered. Neither Gene Hackman nor Keanu Reeves can do much to elevate the material. It also doesn’t help the fact that so much of the film is focused on the antics that occur on the field of play which is incredibly boring to watch. When I first saw this film when it came out I remember thinking that it approximated the effect of channel surfing; switching back and forth between a mediocre romantic comedy and a football game.
However if one actually likes football and racist humor then it’s likely that The Replacements will be a welcome pre-Super Bowl diversion. Personally, my favorite part of The Replacements was Gene Hackman in his “Miles of heart” scene. It’s a short little scene at the end of a game where Hackman delivers a line that only he could really sell.