Cohen cooks up perfect storm in ‘Heist’ – ‘Creating action film in hurricane a delicious challenge’

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This year, the US Federal Reserve will shred an estimated 5.6 billion damaged, out-of-date or just a plain grotty banknotes worth a combined $175 billion and send them to be incinerated.

Money gets trashed regularly and mostly no one notices — but what if a powerful hurricane and a gang of sophisticated thieves happened to be headed right towards where it’s kept?

That’s the premise of “The Hurricane Heist,” the latest release from veteran director Rob Cohen, the creator of the megabucks “Fast and Furious” franchise.

“A shoot-out is no longer just a shoot-out, a chase is no longer just a chase. Any of the tropes of action films suddenly have to reinterpreted by taking place in 140 mph winds and driving rain,” the 68-year-old told AFP.

“It just seemed like, what a delicious challenge to be able to create a hurricane itself, but to create an action film within it.”

“The Hurricane Heist” stars Toby Kebbell (“Kong: Skull Island”) as Will Rutledge, a government meteorologist tracking Hurricane Tammy, the fiercest storm in US history, headed for coastal Alabama.

As the locals evacuate, the US mint in the fictional town of Gulfport race against time to shred $600 million in old bills before Tammy hits — but a gang of tech-savvy robbers have other ideas.

Extreme weather is a nightmare all too real for Cohen, who remembers a particularly terrifying storm when he was growing up in the small commuter town of Cornwall, an hour’s drive north of New York City.

“We got hit with a hurricane somewhere in the 1950s and all I remember is the power going out and trees falling. You hear the trees snapping and falling, and those banshee winds howling,” he recalls.

“We were on the edge of that storm, not even in the brunt of it, but I remember I was like six or seven years old, just hunkering down, worried that a tree was going to crush the house with me in it.”

After graduating from Harvard, Cohen got his break in Hollywood as a reader for agent Mike Medavoy.

One day, he plucked a neglected script out of the slush pile and promised Medavoy it was “the great American screenplay and … will make an award-winning, major-cast, major-director film.”

After some next-level nagging, Medavoy agreed to try to sell the screenplay but warned that if there were no takers, Cohen would be fired.

Universal bought it and it went on to win seven Oscars, including best director and picture, and Cohen has been known ever since as “the kid who found ‘The Sting.’”


This intuition has fuelled much of his work, balanced with an aptitude for innovative special effects that has seen him firing cars out of moving trains and placing his cameramen on go-karts.

Creating the storm of the century on camera is the kind of challenge the director of high-octane blockbusters such as “xXx” and “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story” relishes.

An early pioneer with computer-aided animation, Cohen abandoned CGI in favor of practical effects to show farmhouses destroyed, trucks whipped into the air and a 20-foot tsunami crash into a garden center.

Meanwhile he used LED plates on the windows of cars to transform the red tower roofs and stucco buildings of Sofia, Bulgaria, where the shoot took place in the summer of 2016, into the bucolic Deep South, with its checkered drapes and picturesque coastline.

“I find that an audience has a real sense of when you dump 44,000 gallons of water on a team of stuntmen, and when you pull them on wires and add the fake water later,” Cohen said.

“There are just a million tells that tell you this isn’t real. Computers don’t handle chaos well.”

Kebbell and Maggie Grace (“Lost,” “Twilight: Breaking Dawn”), who plays US treasury agent Casey Corbyn, endured pummeling by crushing rain, 100 mile-per-hour gusts of wind and routine 16-hour days on set.

You don’t have to look particularly hard to find the subtext in all this chaos, for “The Hurricane Heist” is a movie that wears its ecology message very much on its sleeve.

Kebbell’s Will explains at one point that the increasing frequency and severity of hurricanes is caused by global warming and that “all due deference to Donald Trump, there is man-made climate change.”

Cohen, it turns out, has vitriol to spare for Trump, who has described climate change as a Chinese hoax and appointed climate change skeptic Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

“There’s probably not a human being that hates Donald Trump more than me. I have found a dark side of myself that I have never experienced, because I just dream of how he can be tortured and suffer,” he says.

“I hate him, I hate everything he stands for, including on climate change. He’s in the pocket of the oil industry, he doesn’t want to hear that fossil fuels may in fact be poisoning the whole Earth.”

“The Hurricane Heist” was released in North America on Friday.

As anyone who’s ever set foot on a film shoot can tell you, it’s a minor miracle that any film actually gets made at all. That great films are occasionally made is a major miracle. But perhaps most miraculous of all is the film that manages to be misguided on every conceivable level, on which any reasonable person would have pulled the plug after reading any random page of the script, that somehow still makes it through the agonies of both development and production into a wide release. Tailor-made to appear on a future installment of “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” “The Hurricane Heist” is a film of that third variety, a perfect storm of deliriously watchable inanity and ineptitude. It may be a strong early candidate for the worst movie of 2018, but don’t let that deter you — bad movies this fun don’t come along every day. (Agencies)

Much like “Snakes on a Plane,” “Sharknado,” and “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia,” the basic premise of “The Hurricane Heist” can be found right there in its title. As the tiny fictional town of Gulfport, Ala. is battered by what appears to be a Category 75 hurricane, a motley gang of criminals use the weather as cover to steal $600 million in cash — destined for an industrial-strength shredding machine — from a US Treasury depot located just outside of town. That description barely conveys the true insanity of their plot, however, nor does it explain how our heroes are roped into risking their lives to protect the government’s soon-to-be-discarded money.

Director Rob Cohen, who helmed the original “Fast and the Furious” and “xXx” films before moving on to less fortunate projects like 2015’s “The Boy Next Door,” is enough of an old pro to keep the film’s action generally comprehensible and well-paced, and he’s clearly aware of the type of movie he’s making. At times, you have to tip your hat to the film’s cost-savings measures disguised as plot points: Not only does every major CGI setpiece take place in zero-visibility weather conditions, but the town is evacuated roughly 10 minutes in, meaning there are no extras around to hog the craft services tables.

It’s harder to excuse away the fact that there isn’t a single credible Southern accent to be heard in a film set entirely in Alabama, with the most outlandishly awful belonging to the lead actor himself. And while the hurricane heist plot is utterly bonkers, Will and Casey’s schemes to disrupt it are somehow even crazier. A booby trap they lay in a shopping mall relies on a series of freak coincidences and physics abnormalities that would seem improbable in a “MacGyver” episode, and kudos to anyone who can explain why they decide to build a car bomb out of fertilizer late in the film — “It’s how Timothy McVeigh blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City,” Casey says by way of endorsement.

That unusual invocation of terrorist methods aside, “Hurricane Heist’s” strenuous insistence on political neutrality is almost endearing. Afghan War veteran Breeze is there to offer some support-the-troops homilies, while Will provides heartfelt endorsements of higher education. (“Did they teach you that in PhD school?” is but one of the script’s standout quips.) All three of our heroes take time out in the middle of survival situations to discuss their undying love of football and the Second Amendment, but they also believe in climate change. If our divided country can’t come together over a movie this wonderfully terrible, what hope is there is there for us? (Agencies)

By Frankie Taggart


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