LeAnn Rimes and Piper Perabo in Coyote UglyCOYOTE UGLY and THE REPLACEMENTS

Most genre flicks in the '80s were pretty crummy, but what absolutely terrifies me is that now, on the verge of a new millennium, we're actually being presented with homages to the crummy movies of that decade: Coyote Ugly, from uber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer, is a nod to the Jerry-produced smash Flashdance, and The Replacements is a paean to professional-doofus sports movies like Major League and Necessary Roughness, with Gene Hackman on hand to remind us of the coach he played in 1986's Hoosiers.

Both films would like you to think they're full of heart - their underlying subject matter is Follow Your Dream - but heart is exactly what they're lacking; they drip with cynicism, and contempt for the audience's intelligence. You can make it through the kitchiness and ersatz emotion of Coyote Ugly because the movie is so nakedly retrograde that it almost works, but I can't imagine who will be able to stand The Replacements, which doesn't contain one single recognizable human characteristic or emotion. Both works are soulless; The Replacements is also completely brainless.

In Coyote Ugly, Piper Perabo stars as Violet, a wannabe songwriter from Jersey who moves to New York City to jump-start her career. But she finds that becoming an overnight sensation is harder than she expected (Violet isn't exactly Mensa material), so she accepts a bartending job at a local haunt named Coyote Ugly, where the house specials are beer, shots, and serving supermodels who shimmy on the bar. There's some plotline about how Violet needs to overcome stage fright and learn to assert herself, but the movie is just an excuse to watch some great-looking babes spin bottles and dance around while soaking wet, and as most men will tell you, that's excuse enough for a movie.

This complete lack of motivation is actually what's kinda charming about the film. Director David McNally knows that Coyote Ugly is trash, so he goes about making the best-looking piece of trash he can. He starts off well enough with the casting of Perabo. This actress (who also starred in The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle) is a real find, even though after leading roles in two high-profile movies this summer, it's still unclear whether or not she can truly act. She has an amazing face - her features are huge and bright - that conveys joy and disappointment and lust and terror in incredibly broad strokes, yet it never appears that she's overacting; she seems naturally stylized, and ready for anything. (It's easy to imagine young girls watching her and saying, "That's who I wanna be when I grow up.") She brings a lot to the party, and the others in the cast are equally game, the best being Maria Bello as the tough-bitch-with-the-heart-of-gold owner of Coyote Ugly, and John Goodman, as real and lovable as ever, in the role of Violet's pop.

Still, you might leave the movie theatre feeling mildly depressed, because the energy on display in Coyote Ugly is used in the service of something completely worthless. There's not a moment in the film where you have any doubt what will happen next, and the filmmakers' attempts to make the Violet character poignant are rather embarrassing. Most embarrassing of all is the movie's soundtrack - and I can't help but pin the blame for it partly on Jerry Bruckheimer - which sounds exactly like a middle-aged producer's idea of "hip." When Violet stands on-stage - oops, I mean on-bar - singing along to "One Way or Another" and her "sexy" crooning actually stops a bar fight, I wanted to hide my face; if Jerry and company had truly realized how cornball and campy this scene was, they would have had Violet sing Irene Cara's "What a Feeling" anthem from Flashdance. Then the movie could have achieved true hilarity. As is, Coyote Ugly is just blah, reasonably well-performed but junky regardless.

The ReplacementsThe Replacements, though, is beyond junky; it's like something you scrape off your shoe. Loosely inspired by the NFL strike of 1987, the film centers on the fictional Washington Sentinels, whose players are embroiled in a strike, and whose owner (Jack Warden) decides to hire scabs to replace them in the last four games before the playoffs. His new players include a psychotic cop, two look-alike bouncers, a short-order cook, a former sumo wrestler (are you aching from laughter yet?), and Keanu Reeves, a former college star who screwed up big time in a Sugar Bowl game and has never recovered. At least that's how the filmmakers explain Keanu Reeves' usual lack of facial expressions and deadening line delivery this time around, but you know you're in major trouble when Reeves isn't the most brazenly miscast performer in the pic. (That award would go to the usually good Jon Favreau as that psycho cop - he's reminiscent of Alex Karras' Mongo in Blazing Saddles but without the charm.)

Anyway, the movie focuses on how these losers become winners through a combination of heart, desire, and out-and-out stupidity, and I wanted to throw something heavy and messy at the screen for every minute of its insanely overlong two-hour running time. The movie keeps flip-flopping through its genres - sports comedy, sports drama, successful-underdog saga - and doesn't pull a single one of them off. There are no characters whose presence you enjoy (sadly, this also applies to Gene Hackman, whose trademark staccato laugh - heh heh heh heh heh - sounds unusually desperate here), and no one's plight you're interested in; the film's hateful message is that these obese, moronic, undervalued characters should be loved because they're screw-ups, just like you.

There have been quite a few terrible movies released this year (don't even get me started on the recent video release Isn't She Great, which just might be the most laughably bad movie about famous people ever made), but none I hated with quite the zeal I have for The Replacements. Not just because it takes a potentially great subject and trashes it (there's absolutely no discussion on the pros and cons of strike-breaking), but because it's such a smug, dumbed-down version of films that were smug and dumbed-down to begin with; it seems proud of its insipidy, and should be drop-kicked.

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