***BLU-RAY PICTURE QUALITY NOTES BELOW
"PAIN HEALS, CHICKS DIG SCARS, GLORY LASTS FOREVER!" --- (quote sums up the tone you can expect from the movie)
For those who remember the events in the NFL players strike in 1987, it wasn't very funny for fans at the time. However, this movie from 2000 makes use of that event to show us what great fodder for comedy it really was. It succeeds in part by simply never going too far awry. All the sports comedy clichés are checked and that is exactly what makes it work. It simply gives us what we have come to expect. Funny characters, lovable underdogs, situational laughs, a little romance, an outcome we know is in the pipeline - but satisfies.
THE PLOT: Fictional teams are used to depict a league hit by a player's strike. Replacement players must be found. Some teams manage to buy ringers from current NFL players willing to cross the strike picket lines. Others like the "Washington Sentinels" take a more creative approach, bringing a mixture of washed-up former college players and some odd balls like a Welsh footballer with a gambling problem and a sumo wrestler who likes to gorge on hard boiled eggs. This motley crew of ex cons, psychopaths, and has-beens will have to gel and rise to the occasion if the season is to be saved and a playoff birth secured. As it happens, the cheerleading squad seems to be The Replacements as well. The head cheerleader (and QB love interest) struggles to form her squad and manages to find a gaggle of stripperific gals from the local club. You see what I mean about checking all the sports cliché boxes, and I don't mean that in a bad way.
CHARACTERS: Keanu Reeves plays Shane Falco, a former college star with great skill but failing confidence after a disastrous final game in the Sugar Bowl. The show adds a surprisingly unique set of surrounding personalities. Jon Favreau is the psychopath linebacker that just wants to mow things down, even when congratulating his own teammates on the field! Orlando Jones is the motor mouth wide receiver, fastest in the game, who consequently can't actually catch. All are led by the venerable replacement coach Jimmy Mcginty (Gene Hackman). The show survives in large part to the personality quirks of these odd ball players. The cheerleaders are also hilarious, particularly in the tryouts near the start of the show. The string of absolutely awful prospective dancers are precisely what lead Annabelle to rely on the stripper recruits. I kinda wish they had kept some of the hilarious tryouts on the squad!
HISTORICAL CONTEXT: The 1987 Players Strike only lasted 24 days and began after the second week. I seem to remember it feeling longer! Replacement players were quickly recruited from then recently closed CFL and USFL leagues. Many NFL players also chose to cross picket lines and continue playing. These included notables like Cowboys Randy White, 49s Joe Montana, and Patriots Doug Flutie. TV ratings dropped 20% during the few weeks of replacement players. That was actually a surprise because they thought it would be worse. Replacement games may have cost playoff births to some contender teams like previous SB champs the NY Giants, who faired poorly during the replacement stretch and then failed to make the playoffs.
2015 BLU-RAY RELEASE: As I suspected, this lesser known catalog release is a passable upgrade and generally looks good. It's not the kind of title they put a huge amount of resources into a remaster. The colors are vibrant enough, but the picture is not quite as crisp in many scenes as I had hoped. If you already own the DVD, likely just the bigger fans will want to go out for the movie again on Blu-Ray.
CONTENT AND FINAL THOUGHTS: This won't go down as one of the great sports movies of all time, but it's easily memorable enough for a Friday night and some good chuckles. Some of the characters are memorable. They don't go out on a limb much in any one area, and even the stripper cheerleaders are pretty tame by today's standards. However, there was a locker room scene with rear male nudity. Just remember the movie is now 15 years old at time of writing, but has aged fairly well in my opinion. I suggest a rental unless you know you are already a fan. But I definitely recommend it!