The Football Network (US), September 2000
The Replacements/TFN Review
by Steffanie Siebrand
It's late in the season; the playoffs are fast approaching; and the US football team the Washington Sentinels has just gone on strike. Scrambling for a solution, the Sentinels' owner Edward O'Neil (JACK WARDEN) hatches a plan to bring in legendary Jimmy McGinty (GENE HACKMAN) to recruit a team of replacement players in exactly one week.
For fans and owners alike, the strike is a disaster. But for Shane Falco (KEANU REEVES) and a mismatched group of outsiders, it is the second chance they've waited for their whole lives.
For football fans, the movie is an enjoyable escape. Don't get me wrong, we are not talking academy award performances here, but we are talking a fun movie with some nice football action. And hey, this IS The Football Network, so instead of concentrating on plot twists, underlying themes, and the social ramifications, lets talk about something MUCH more important, THE FOOTBALL.
Bringing in veteran stunt and football coordinator Allan Graf ("The Program", "Jerry Maguire", "The Waterboy" and "Any Given Sunday"), the viewer gets to enjoy some fancy footwork and action that we don't always get to see in recent NFL history.
It was the job of Graf and his associate Mark Ellis to recruit core players for the five games to be depicted in the course of the film and integrate them with Keanu Reeves and the rest of the actors portraying the replacements through a three-week training camp.
"We interviewed about 400 players and whittled them down to a team of about 45, each of whom had played professional football at one level or another, whether it was the National Football League, Canadian Football League or arena football," recalls Graf. "Then we had the main cast come in and camp for three weeks before we started shooting."
"It was obvious that not only Keanu but all of the other actors playing the Sentinels' replacements were going to have to look like professionals in the movie," Executive Producer, Jeffrey Chernov says. "Two months before I came on the project, Keanu was already working with a number of people to condition himself and work on his football. We wanted the team to not only look good, but to understand the game and learn how to wear the uniforms and equipment. And because we were planning on starting the film in August on the East Coast, they had to get acclimated to the weather as well.
"So essentially, we put them through a crash course in football, with intense physical training as well as rehearsing plays designed by Allan Graf that would be used in the film's five games. By the time we started shooting, they all knew the plays and were ready to rumble.
Each actor has his own level of athletic proficiency at the start of camp. "Keanu is a real good athlete, and worked long and hard on looking like a real quarterback," notes Graf.
In my opinion, Keanu could pass as quarterback, I mean, standing well over six-foot-one, and 162 lbs., he is more believable than, let's say, Doug Flutie. Plus, coming off of "The Matrix," (which happens to me one of my favorite movies), I'm willing to believe anything. And...his arm ain't too bad either.
While most of the movie was supposedly taking place in Washington, DC, in reality, they filmed at PSINet Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens. It was actually during a Ravens exhibition game held on the night of Saturday, August 28th, that provided the actors, filmmakers (and Ravens fans) with one of the most thrilling nights of their lives.
Allan Graf continues the tale: "We rehearsed four complicated plays for a week in Annapolis--the plays and the timing, with the key cast, 60 football players and 90 extras. But the real thing would be different--during the half-time of an NFL game with thousands of people watching every move we would make from the stands, and millions more at home staring at their TV sets."
To further complicate matters, the original 12 minutes the production was allotted was changed at the last minute to nine-and-a-half minutes.
The coordination was like something out of a military campaign. Some 500 members of "The Replacements" company: the stars, the director, the crew and the core football players, assembled in a staging area at the downtown Baltimore Arena. As the Ravens game approached half-time, buses shuttled the entire crowd over to PSINet Stadium--with cast in full costume, from Reeves and Hackman on down to the sideline personnel. The company stood in the bowels of the giant arena for the two-minute warning that signaled that it was time to get ready.
When Keanu Reeves and Gene Hackman ran onto the field at the head of the company, a cheer went up from the Ravens fans, which increased to deafening roars of approval over the next nine minutes. "It was the biggest high any of us have ever had," enthuses Graf.
I recently sat down with Keanu Reeves and got his take on the experience.
Steffanie Siebrand: You guys had to pull off a major feat and get some serious footage when you played during the half-time of a Ravens game.
Keanu Reeves: Yeah, The Ravens were great with that and with the stadium, and we got to play in a half-time. It was really well organized and for me, it was...it was nerve-racking.
This guy Pete, who was my center, he called me Shane, he's like, "Shane, it's gonna be loud out there. You gotta be loud."
I was like, "OK, it's gonna be loud"...and we came out, and the people were great. I think they had fun watching us do it. Yeah, it was the pressure of executing. To play the quarterback position, it's all about delivering the ball.
In cinema, sometimes you can do take-two, take-three. Here you know you might have gotten take-two. Maybe. So it was the real deal.
It was fun to be involved in the dynamics--how everybody got jacked up to play--and everyone executed. We did an extra play...we were only supposed to do seven or eight...we did nine.
Steffanie Siebrand: Did you do any research on the 1987 strike that this is based on?
Keanu Reeves: I met some people who went through it...but the film is inspired by the event, and not the circumstances. That was more of an owner-player type of deal.
But I did get into what it would be like to get a chance to play ball...which is what that was...what it meant to be able to play...ball. Because so many of these guys I played with in this film played arena football, European football...were waiting to go..."look I'm a half a second slow here, but I've got football speed, I broke this, I broke that, I'm trying to get in, I'm an inch too short for what they think...."
I mean, all of these guys want to play ball. So I was around that...a lot...a lot.
Steffanie Siebrand: What do you think hard-core football fans are going to get from this movie?
Keanu Reeves: Hopefully, they'll enjoy some of the hits...we have some helacious hitting going on. And hopefully they'll just enjoy the characters who are playing the game.