Directed by Howard Deutch
Written by Vince McKewin
Starring Keanu Reeves, Gene Hackman, Brooke Langton, Orlando Jones, Rhys Ifans
My Advice: Wait and Rent It.
O'Neil (Jack Warden) is the owner of the Washington Sentinels, and he's posed with a problem. All the players across the league are going on strike, meaning the season is about to crash and burn. The solution? Grab a replacement coach to go and find some replacement players. The replacement coach? Jimmy McGinty (Hackman), whom O'Neil calls out of retirement. The replacement players? A bunch of players who, for one reason or another, dropped out of football--or life--and need a second chance. McGinty taps the barnacle scraper Shane Falco (Reeves), who in another life was a All-American. Falco's career ended for multiple reasons, some of those reasons being his multiple concussions. Can this group of players keep from killing each other long enough to play out the season and head for the championship?
What do you think? At times charming and at times amusing, the film can't seem to maintain its fun attitude long enough to translate into a winning combination. This is a shame, because they grabbed the cast necessary to pull such a thing off. Hackman is always good, but here he's in definite Michael Caine Need-A-House Mode. The supporting cast is truly the highlight of the film, led by the very amusing Orlando Jones, who's so good he can almost carry a scene that rests squarely on the shoulders of Gloria Gaynor--more on that in a moment. Rhys Ifans is the player of that other kind of football, who smokes a cigarette right up until the time he's going to make that important field goal kick. Jon Favreau is surprisingly and effectively out-of-control as the psychotic SWAT officer turned football player--surprisingly, because you have to keep reminding yourself that it's Favreau on screen in the throes of bloodlust. Even Keanu has a good showing in this film.
So what the hell did go wrong? Well, the most obvious glaring error is whoever was in charge of picking the songs out of the bargain basement bin they found them in. The worst was the repeated use of Glora Gaynor's "I Will Survive." The bonding scene where the song is featured would have broken most actors, but Jones manages to save face--major points for him. But the insanity doesn't stop there--! Do we really need a movie in the year 2000 where the romantic leads eye each other across a room, "Every Breath You Take" playing in the background? Was this a period piece and no one explained this to me? Other irritating musical choices manage to hobble the scenes in which they appear.
Another issue: a good twenty minutes could have been trimmed from the film, consisting primarily of cut-shots to the cheerleaders on the side doing their thing. Of course, in a film with a decent script behind it, such shots are unnecessary as we're already interested in what's going on and do not need shapely women shaking their groove things. With this film, you're thankful for those twenty minutes. They are true quality, especially when you have a pro like Gene Hackman having to make due with speeches about the team being in need of heart. There's a song they should have gotten the rights to, "If I Only Had a..."--yeah, you know the one.
What could have been a good football comedy doesn't even meet the level of personal fave Wildcats, or even the more recent Varsity Blues. The material is for the most part bad stuff, and the characters that you actually do grow to like have no resolution to their various flimsy subplots. If you're an absolute football nut, catch a matinee, but otherwise it's good for a rental.
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