Gridiron Groan 

The Replacements (PG-13)
Warner Bros.

This football flick wants to be A League of Their Own, but more closely resembles The Bad News Bears -- older, fatter, more obnoxious and not quite grown-up.

Keanu Reeves in full surfer-speak is Shane Falco, an All-American college football star who choked in a Sugar Bowl appearance and never made it to the big leagues. Falco now spends his days knocking back beers on his houseboat and scraping barnacles off the hulls of more fashionable yachts. (Funny, though, he's still in perfect physical condition and displays not a smidgen of beer belly.)

When the Washington Sentinels' players go on strike, demanding higher salaries than the exorbitant ones they are already paid, owner Edward O'Neil (Jack Warden) brings in legendary coach Jimmy McGinty (Gene Hackman) to put together a team of replacement players in one week to carry the Sentinels through to the playoffs. Falco is recruited as quarterback because the omniscient McGinty senses in him a quality missing in the regular crew -- heart.

Yes, that's right, heart. You gotta have heart. Competition, even on the professional football field is rendered meaningless if it doesn't have heart. And we know Shane's got heart because in a locker room sensitivity session he admits before the whole team his fear of failure. Oh, and because the first time he sees her, he develops a whopping crush on scantily clad cheerleader Anabelle Farrell (Melrose Place's Brooke Langton) and eventually they make out full-on in spite of Annabelle's resolve never to date players.

But all of that is merely background. The bulk of the action in The Replacements takes place on the football field where Falco leads a motley crew including a 600-pound sumo wrestler, a prisoner out on loan from the state, a deaf kid, a pair of rotund, gun-slinging twins and a psychotic cop -- just a bunch of regular guys, really -- to the playoffs.

Every scene, from sidelines to locker room to the neighborhood bar to the action on the field is utterly predictable. The dialogue is so lame that even the worst clichs are repeated over and over. The women in the film are either strippers recruited to be cheerleaders or pampered trophy wives distinguished by their facelifts.

Even the formidable Gene Hackman couldn't save this giant gridiron groaner.


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