In his 40-plus years in Hollywood, director/producer/writer Rob Cohen has made some huge movies, including his totally coincidental Dragon trilogy -- Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, DragonHeart, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor -- and The Fast and the Furious, which kicked off what could arguably be called the biggest franchise around. But never has he made a bigger splash than in his latest flick, The Hurricane Heist, which opens this weekend.
“We used about 6 million gallons of water,” Cohen tells SYFY WIRE about creating the titular storm for the film, which finds Maggie Grace (Lost, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn), Toby Kebbell (Fantastic Four, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), and Ryan Kwanten (True Blood, The Oath) trying to stop a group of tech-savvy yet ruthless thieves attempting to jack $600 million from a coastal U.S. Treasury mint facility just as the biggest hurricane in the history of weather comes bearing down.
What makes the thieves’ brazen plan ever more insane is their idea to drive the cash money out through the eye of the storm, and then keep driving until the hurricane dissipates over land. Which sounds like a great idea, until the wall of the eye catches up to you. “The part that’s the killer is that ring around the eye, where the centripetal and centrifugal forces are so intense that you’re dealing with like a sub-nuclear wall of chaos fueled by thunderstorms, which becomes the deadly, destructive part of the hurricane.”
To create such an illusion, Cohen set out to make the biggest hurricane ever. “That’s the idea. The idea was to bring on a storm that nobody except the lead of the movie, Toby Kebbel, expects to turn into a Category 5, which, theoretically in what I was thinking, is borderline to a new category,” says Cohen, while noting that his sci-fi hurricane musings are currently running into a grounding problem. “I think after this last year of hurricanes, I don’t know what’s science fiction anymore.”
Regardless of the reality factor seeping in, the film’s fun factor remains high. For example, part of “the fun factor comes when [Kebbell] realizes he can use hubcaps as deadly weapons,” says Cohen. “You’re having fun, but the truth is, if you’re in a 150-mph wind and you throw a hubcap like a frisbee with a following wind, it becomes a lethal weapon.”
Since some 80% of the hurricane’s massive effects were practical, including “banks” of 100-mph fans, Cohen even had a chance to experiment with the reality of hubcap flight. “We would bring out these different weights of plastic hubcaps and see what they would do. And then I thought for fun I’d throw a real one, and damn, that thing went like 150 yards down the street like a lethal weapon, like Oddjob in Goldfinger.”
Speaking of Bond, Cohen’s Bond, Sean Connery, provided the voice of Draco the Scottish dragon in his 1996 film DragonHeart. The film, which Cohen was “so thrilled about the challenge of creating the first CGI acted character” for, captured Connery’s spirit in dragon form. And according to the director, who named one of his kids after the legend, Connery’s spirit was quite something. “To live around Sean Connery is to have thousands of memories. Because he’s just a very dimensional, and a very beautifully colorful human being,” says Cohen.
“He was my hero, and having spent two years working on this film, and having spent a lot of time with him socially, he’s still my hero. He was so down to earth, funny, he was very irascible, but it was always because something was worth being angry about. And he had a very high work ethic, and he had a lot of idiosyncrasies that you don’t think of for James Bond, like that he was a terrible driver,” recalls Cohen.
“The first time he took me to lunch, he showed up in an old beat-up Impala, and I said, ‘Sean, I expected you to come up here in an Aston Martin.’ And he goes, [Connery accent] ‘No, this is my gardner’s car, and I just give him a few bobs to rent it from him from time to time. I don’t need a car, a car is expensive.’ And then I got in the car and I was fearing for my life, because he was driving on the wrong side of the road, with his little half glasses on his nose, and he was so anti-James Bond that you had to love him, because he was just Sean."
When I prodded about what made the man irascible on DragonHeart, Cohen recalled another great Connery story: “We were going to lunch once, and some guy came out of the men’s room while we were going to our table, and he literally walked right in front of Sean; he just wasn’t paying attention. And when he realized he had stopped somebody, he looked up -- and of course Sean is 6’2”, so it’s a long look up; this guy was about 5’7” – and he looked up at Sean, and he tried to do Sean, he went, ‘I’m Bond, I’m James Bond.’ And Sean went, ‘You’re a bloody dickhead is what you are, get out of my way!’”
Of course, I had to inquire about the movie Cohen says he’s best known for, 2001’s The Fast and the Furious, which came to him via a Vibe magazine article, via Universal, for whom he’d just directed Paul Walker in The Skulls. Cohen, who had worked at a local garage in high school, said his head immediately “just exploded” with visions of what the film could be. But it became so much more once he actually saw SoCal street racing in action.
“When I got into the underground of it, and saw my first street race out on San Fernando Road -- the colorful cars, the different multi-ethnic groups -- the whole thing just exploded for me,” says Cohen. “When Paul Walker goes to that first race, that’s pretty much beat for beat my experience: meeting at Bob’s Big Boy at 3 a.m. and moving out … to San Fernando Road and running races till the cops got onto it and then everyone scattering like roaches. And I said, ‘Okay, now I know the way into this story.’”
Cohen says you can’t argue with the franchise’s box office, but things have “clearly” strayed from where he would have taken it. “I wanted to build it around this multi-ethnic family, and though Vin still mouths words about family, that aspect of it has kind of dissipated in favor of heists and large-scale action in which gravity plays no role whatsoever,” says Cohen. “So it’s gone a different way, and yet, for my kid’s college education, I’m very happy it’s been so successful. And I enjoy some of them, and I’m amazed and delighted that 18 years after I made up a guy named Dominic Toretto that Dominic Toretto is still appearing every two years.”
With Fast & Furious 9 not expected to appear in theaters until 2020, that means Cohen's kids' college fund could use your support now. So, if you’re in the mood for a wild action thriller that takes place inside of the world’s biggest hurricane, check out The Hurricane Heist this weekend.