Replacements, The

Published: Thursday, Aug. 16 2001 2:07 p.m. MDT

THE REPLACEMENTS — ** — Keanu Reeves, Gene Hackman, Orlando Jones, Brooke Langton, Jon Favreau, Rhys Ifans, Faizon Love, Jack Warden; rated PG-13 (profanity, violence, vulgarity); Carmike 12, Cottonwood Mall and Ritz 15

You may think you haven't seen "The Replacements" before, but trust me, you have.

On the surface, the film's premise seems original: Use a motley crew of ragamuffins to replace spoiled professional-league football players during a strike. But when you get down to it, "The Replacements" is a retread of an oft-used Hollywood plot, recalling "Major League" and other flicks that bunch crazy personalities together as a team and have them clash before they bond and realize — "Hey, I love you man!"

"The Replacements" is set now but is loosely based on the 1987 National Football League strike, when players walked the picket line and owners used not-ready-for-prime-time players in their stead.

With four games to go until playoffs, the rich, obnoxious players of the fictional Washington Sentinels go on strike, and owner Edward O'Neil (Jack Warden) has to find a way to fill the stands. So he resurrects old-time coach Jimmy McGinty (Gene Hackman) from retirement and asks him to put together a crew to keep the team going until the real players come back.

Hackman plays a one-dimensional character based on legendary coaches of days gone by, speaking in cliches too banal to remember.

But then again, most of the film's characters are caricatures — from the pompous, menacing strikers (apparently, real NFL stars did not act as consultants on this depiction) to the misfits McGinty fields for his team.

They include Nigel, the Welsh chain-smoking soccer star subbing as the team's kicker; Daniel, a maniac cop who acts like a raging bull when he sees a football; Jumbo, a massive sumo wrestler; and Clifford (played hilariously by Orlando Jones), a wisecracking sprinter who would be great on offense — if he could just learn to hang on to the ball.

And of course, there's the "normal one" — Keanu Reeves' Shane Falco, a former college quarterback who showed promise but quit the sport after a famously bad performance in a bowl game. Reeves plays the part in his typical reserved, monotone manner, but here it works. He convincingly plays the Average Joe — albeit a very attractive one — who hopes for one last chance at redemption in the pros. The level-headed Shane has to lead this green bunch, which can't even get the plays right.

Jones, best known for "MadTV" appearances and 7-Up commercials, steals the movie with his bug-eyed antics and wisecracks. At one point, during a crucial game against pro players who have crossed the picket line, he looks across at his opponent and says: "Can I have your autograph?"

There certainly are other entertaining moments, including the hypersexed dance routines of the replacement cheerleaders, who are better versed in lap dances than cheers. And of course, the film does feature Reeves in tight pants, reason enough for some of his female fans to see the movie.

Still, it is predictable to the last frame. Directed by Howard Deutch of "Pretty in Pink" fame, "The Replacements" never rises above a second-rate TV movie. It's enough to keep your interest but nothing to cheer about.

"The Replacements" is rated PG-13 for foul language, slapstick and football violence and sexual references. Running time: 116 minutes.