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Sit. Relax. Watch. Enjoy. Repeat.
by Jon Schuller

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I've written about movies that featured an underdog as the central character; the "loser" who's always a victim, always picked on by the other kids (or adults); who somehow finds their assets and the courage to overcome fears and outsmart the smart ones. The underdog may also find true love and someone to share it with forever after. But it's the discovery of hidden, unknown strength and knowledge that becomes an integral part of the process. The admiration of others, who also were against them, creates a new hero, albeit a modest one, and the crowd grows to love him. Maybe a new role in the school play is offered. Maybe a new job appears and the hero is the perfect fit. Maybe there are many heroes, also formerly unknown, all struggling to survive and make a difference. And we watch as the former victims grow in courage and take on the bullies, liberating others in the process and raising their spirits, lifting them up to new heights and new possibilities.

The Replacements premiered in August, 2000, with a stellar cast headed by Gene Hackman as Coach Jimmy McGinty, Keanu Reeves as Quarterback Shane Falco, Rhys Ifans as Nigel Gruff, Jon Favreau as Daniel "Danny" Bateman, Brooke Langton as Annabelle Farrell, the head cheerleader, Jack Warden as the Washington Sentinels team owner, Edward O'Neil and Orlando Jones as Clifford Franklin.

There's a professional football league
strike as the last four games of the regular season are left to be played. The Washington Sentinels are among the teams and its owner, Edward O'Neil, approaches and old friend and former coach, Jimmy McGinty, to come back to coach the team, this time with replacement players, and maybe save the season. McGinty insists on complete independence in picking players and coaching staff. O'Neil reluctantly agrees.

His first choice is a former All-American college star, Shane Falco, who lost a championship game and lives on an old houseboat near Sentinel Stadium. O'Neil convinces Falco to return and re-establish himself again as a champion. Others are picked from various places, including one prison inmate, Earl Wilkinson aka "Ray Smith" (Michael Jace), who was star corner back. The kicker, Nigel Gruff, is a Welshman who can kick a football the length of the field, but smokes and gambles. Danny Bateman is mild-mannered off the field but an intense maniac as he runs and tackles everyone he can. The cheerleaders are made up of local strippers in Washington. The scene where Annabelle auditions the ladies for their jobs as cheerleaders is priceless.

The striking players show their disdain for the replacements by taunting them outside the stadium; they overturn Shane's truck as other replacement players help him. He and Annabelle have met each other and she sees his problem. They lose
their first game to Detroit as they struggle to learn from each other and realize what's at stake. They all meet at a local bar after the game, to commiserate with each other, as Eddie Martel (Brett Cullen), the regular starting quarterback, and some other players enter to taunt the replacements for their loss. Falco gets in Martel's face, a fight ensues and some of the replacements end up in a jail cell. There, they begin to bond with each other and dance; this too is a wonderful scene, as the men see each other as friends as well as teammates. McGinty bails them out and warns them this is the only time he'll do that. But the die has been cast and he's bailing out the core of a new team.

The second game is against San Diego and the Sentinels win, thanks to a 65-yard soccer kick by Gruff. Shane and Annabelle share a beer and a kiss in her father's bar. The third game is in Phoenix and they win despite some questionable plays. The return to Washington shows owner O'Neil telling McGinty the strike is over as Martel and other teams' regular players are crossing the picket lines. The last game against Dallas will see Falco reluctantly replaced by the egotistical Martel. Falco has to face his teammates and tell them he's finished as their leader and quarterback. The men are upset and demoralized.

The last game's first half against Dallas is a disaster as Martel acts as if he owns
the team and tells McGinty to mind his own business. The Washington fans show their displeasure by booing Martel as the team heads for the locker room. A tv reporter stops McGinty along the way and he tells her the team needs "heart." Falco sees it on his own television and heads for the stadium. Falco enters the locker room as his fellow players throw Martel out. The team takes the field again.

Gruff fails to kick the game-winning field goal as he chokes the kick, seeing three gamblers in the stands who threatened to take his pub away because of his gambling debts. Falco saves the play and tells McGinty he wants the ball. He throws it to the deaf-mute player, Brian Murphy (David Denman), who scores the game-winning touchdown. All the players celebrate the victory as Falco and Annabelle kiss and everybody dances around, Falco getting wild applause. All of the men realize what they've accomplished for themselves and the team in a few short weeks. Their lives have been changed forever.

The movie is based on real events in NFL history and I must admit that this one is also one of those films that I never bored watching over again. It's uplifting and real. Different men, from different backgrounds and situations are thrown together to bond and grow; to fulfill their dreams and make an unselfish difference in the lives of fans and colleagues. It's inspirational without being phony or snobby.

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Cinema Savant
Every other Thursday

My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.

Other Columns
Other columns by Jon Schuller:

Have You Been Spying On Me Lately? For How Long?

But Can She Act? That's What I Want to Know

They're Not the Same People They Used To Be

Time Does Fly When We Watch Movies

Before Minimum or Maximum, There Was Only Prison

All Columns

Jon Schuller
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 30 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Jon Schuller by clicking here.

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