'Replacements' fumbles;'Cecil B.' scores with satire

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

This is a summer to remember. First the brain-dead "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps" and the sadistic "Hollow Man" reached high-water marks in Hollywood's ability to show contempt for its audience. And now "The Replacements" has arrived, completing what amounts to an unofficial trilogy of really, really bad movies.

Let's hope it's complete, at any rate. A few more like these and the studios might as well close their doors for good - although they wouldn't agree with that proposition, since even their most egregious pictures often rack up a profitable opening thanks to the teenage and

20-something dollars they entice through massive marketing campaigns.

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The heroes of The Replacements are a bunch of strike-breaking athletes who agree to replace a picketing football team. To a man, they're antisocial creeps who bungled their earlier opportunities through various gaffes, glitches, and goofs. Will they repeat their former errors and fade back into obscurity? Or will they beat, bash, and brawl their way to victory - a veritable "Dirty Dozen" of the sporting scene?

From a glance at the ads, you might think "The Replacements" had real entertainment tucked under its shoulder pads, if only because the perennially gifted Gene Hackman and the gradually improving Keanu Reeves play the team's legendary coach and ambivalent quarterback, respectively. Wrong. Their talents are detectable now and then, but the movie is so vulgar and incoherent that their efforts to outrun the general chaos never get close to the end zone.

In short, they should have gone on strike after reading the screenplay.

And speaking of strikes, it's hard to remember a movie that takes a more sneering view of organized labor.

Regardless of which side one might be on, real-life work stoppages generally have some connection with issues, principles, and livelihoods. You'd never guess that from "The Replacements," which assumes every viewer will find the basic plot situation - a bitter strike complete with rage and violence - worthy of nothing but mockery and scorn.

Then there are the grotesque racial stereotypes, the enthusiasm for guns, the demeaning treatment of women ... but you get the idea. "The Replacements" deserves replacement as quickly as possible.

It's enough to make you grateful for John Waters's new Cecil B. Demented. Although no masterpiece, it tackles Hollywood on its own ground and scores points through its outlandish satire.

The wacky "Cecil B. Demented" also has highly questionable taste, but it earns more comic license, since it's a rough-hewn satire as well as a roughneck farce. The heroine is a 10th-rung movie actress (Melanie Griffith) who's kidnapped by a band of guerrilla filmmakers and forced to play the lead in their latest no-budget epic, which they hope will expose Hollywood as a money-driven fraud and enshrine their own anti-aesthetic forever.

Waters started his career with over-the-top parodies like "Desperate Living" and the notorious "Pink Flamingos," which exasperated responsible moviegoers as much as they delighted rebellious kids. He went mainstream in tamer pictures like "Hairspray" and "Cry-Baby," but enough feistiness lives on in his work to make it a refreshing antidote to studio fare.

"Cecil B. Demented" features one of his regular actresses, Patricia Hearst, and it's fascinating to observe how closely the picture's plot parallels her real-life kidnapping that once put her in front-page headlines. At least this cheap, unassuming comedy gives us something to think about. That's more than many studio movies can claim at the moment.

'The Replacements,' rated PG-13, contains foul language and behavior. 'Cecil B. Demented,' rated R, contains much vulgar humor.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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