NEVER HAS THE ART of movie critiquing been better captured than when the Boston Globe described Shakes the Clown as "the Citizen Kane of alcoholic clown movies." The point is that it's patently absurd to hold, say, Adam Sandler's golf spoof Happy Gilmore and Shakespeare in Love to the same criteria for success. Each is a masterpiece in its chosen genre. For me, Gilmore is the queen mother of sports comedies, while Shakespeare will undoubtedly go down in history as the best movie ever made that tried to pass off Gwyneth Paltrow as a man.
directed by Howard Deutch
with Keanu Reeves, Gene Hackman, and John Favreau
opens August 11 at Meridian, Metro, Oak Tree
The baseball laugher Major League ranks a close second on my all-time list of sports comedies, while The Replacements, about a team of substitute players that reaches the NFL only because the real gridiron gods are on strike, rates a surprising third. (It barely edges out Lou Gossett's 1992 pugilistic con-artist film Diggstown.)
Like Major League, what makes The Replacements click aren't the performances of the leads (Keanu Reeves as quarterback, Gene Hackman as coach), but rather the no-name supporting cast, namely John Favreau (Swingers) as the Navy SEAL cum middle linebacker, Rhys Ifans (Twin Town) as the Welsh kicker who chain-smokes during field goal attempts, and Orlando Jones as the butterfingers receiver with a penchant for imitating soul divas.
The Replacements also benefits from some amusingly scripted touches. The cheerleading squad is mostly comprised of strippers who see no harm in feigning anal sex as part of their routines. The first kiss between Reeves and cute-as-a-bug's-ear cheerleader/bartender Brooke Langton (Melrose Place) is set to narration by real-life senior-citizen football commentators John Madden and Pat Summerall (the latter who, now in his seventies, resembles a cross between Burgess Meredith's corpse and a stuffed owl).
Apart from its minor virtues and easygoing appeal, the only reason The Replacements will receive anything resembling critical scrutiny will be for the curious choice Reeves has made for his followup to last year's blockbuster The Matrix. For our money, we think Keanu made a fine decision, seeing as how any option would have been a step up from the monotonous, computer-manipulated action figure he played in that inexcusably dreadful imitation video game of a movie. By comparison, The Replacements is reasonably fun. Not to say Reeves is necessarily a gifted comic actor, as he'll forever wander in the shadow cast by his breakout performance in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. (But, then again, you have to question whether or not he was actually acting in that stoner gem, much like Courtney Love's turn as Mrs. Larry Flynt.)