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August 08, 2000|LARRY STEWART

What: "The Replacements"

Where: Theaters everywhere

When: Opens Friday

Despite a plot as trite as the cheerleader falling for the quarterback, "The Replacements" edges out Oliver Stone's overblown and forgettable "Any Given Sunday" as the best football movie of the last few years. Of course, that's not saying much.

"The Replacements" gets the nod because of casting and laughs. The laughs make up for lack of substance. Take a failed quarterback seeking redemption, a beaten-down coach lured out of retirement, a love interest, a "Dirty Dozen" group of football players and a pro football strike, and you can guess what happens.

Keanu Reeves stars as quarterback Shane Falco and Gene Hackman as the coach, Jimmy McGinty. Brooke Langton ("Melrose Place") is cheerleader Annabelle Farrell and Falco's predictable love interest. The cheerleading squad rivals the team for number of misfits. Most of the girls are lured from a local strip club, which provides unnecessary silliness.

Producer Dylan Sellers came up with the idea for "The Replacements" during the 1987 NFL strike. But the movie is contemporary and fictitious. The team is the Washington Sentinels of a mythical league. Reeves, who was tutored for the movie by former Ram T.J. Rubley, is believable as a quarterback, and it would have been hard to find a better cast of players.

Rhys Ifans, who played Hugh Grant's disheveled roommate in "Notting Hill," is again a scene-stealer as Nigel "the Leg' Gruff, a chain-smoking Welsh kicker. Orlando Jones is butter-fingered receiver Clifford Franklin, Jon Favreau is a crazed cop, Michael Jace a prison inmate, Troy Winbush a born-again Christian, David Denman a deaf tight end. Faizon Love and Michael Taliferro add plenty of beef, as does sumo wrestler Ace Yonamine. Broadcasters Pat Summerall and John Madden play themselves.

The supporting cast saves the movie. Reeves and Hackman, as one might expect, turn in solid performances. The rest are pleasant surprises.

The football scenes, for the most part, are more realistic than the ones in "Any Given Sunday," though the football stunt coordinators were the same for both movies. The problem with the football scenes in "Any Given Sunday" is that they were overproduced and overdone.

Contributing to the realism in "The Replacements" is that some scenes were shot during halftime at a Baltimore Raven exhibition game at PSINet Stadium last August. The crew managed to pull it off in the allotted 9 1/2 minutes.

Too bad the makers of this film couldn't pull off a few more plot twists.

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