Hurricane Heist runs on pure adrenaline

Director Rob Cohen talks about his new action thriller

Hurricane Heist. Directed by Rob Cohen. Starring Toby Kebbell, Maggie Grace, Ryan Kwanten and Ralph Ineson. Opening March 9 at Cineplex Odeon International Village Cinemas.

Rob Cohen has spent time with some legendary tough guys: Sylvester Stallone, Vin Diesel, Sean Connery, Arnold Schwarzenneger, to name a few.

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But the producer and director of such films as The Fast and the Furious and xXx may face his toughest critics yet: his 10-year-old triplets.

Hurricane Heist, out today, is one of the first movies age-appropriate enough for his kids to see. “There’s no sex, no swear words,” he says. “It’s just pure action, and I think they can handle it.”

“I just hope they don’t go screaming from the theatre!”

The film centres around the attempted robbery of $600 million from a coastal U.S. Treasury facility as a hurricane roars in. Maggie Grace stars as a treasury agent – the only one with the vault code – who ends up in the company of meteorologist Will (Tobey Kebbell, War for the Planet of the Apes) and Breeze (Ryan Kwanten), battling both bad guys and the elements as the hurricane morphs into a Category 5 monster.

With all the craziness in the headlines right now, a film for the fun of it is just what the public needs, says Cohen, chatting by phone from his home in Los Angeles. “The critics would have everyone make a certain type of film, but I see enough of that on the front page of the New York Times and on the streets in front of me. I like people to be excited, to have a good time and to have their values reaffirmed, values and bonds that transcend everyday stresses.

“At end of the day it’s my hope that you’ve had a thrilling, fun time because we are living in not-fun times.”

The inspiration for the intense hurricane scenes were no accident: they came from the director’s experience of living through a powerful storm as a child. Cohen was about seven years old when a massive hurricane ripped along the eastern seaboard and the edge of it touched his home town of Cornwall, NY. “I remember how frightening it was, winds howling, trees falling over. It was very formative, so I was able to put the terror that a child would experience into the film.”

More inspiration came from the fact that the release of Cohen’s 1996 film Dragonheart coincided with the release date for tornado flick Twister, and “I thought it would be cool to take that kind of ‘90s thriller/natural disaster movie and reinvent it in my own crazy, gonzo way.”

With visual effects this big, the temptation to sacrifice plot for one more big action sequence would be great for any filmmaker, and Cohen admits that in past projects he may have gotten mired in the technical challenges. “I worked so hard on the technical razzle-dazzle I might’ve lost sight of everything else,” he says. But he points to the relationship between estranged brothers Will and Breeze as the real heart of the Hurricane Heist. Cohen grew up with twin sisters but “I’ve had a fascination with brothers and brotherhood mostly out of the fantasy of what it would be like,” he says, “and I’ve certainly had a lot of friendships over the years that I would consider brother relationships.”

Cohen never wanted the stereotypical action-movie love story for Hurricane Heist: “the whole movie takes place over eight or nine hours, so to fall in love in that short amount of time and have all that kissy-face stuff is just stupid.” Instead what viewers get is a reality-based relationship between Will and Casey that starts with “mistrust and fear, which turns into cooperation, to comradeship, to burgeoning friendship, and mutual trust and affection.”

And Maggie Grace gets more to do than merely be the hot girlfriend: Casey is the tough treasury agent, Will is the more skittish meteorologist, “a guy who could not shoot a gun to save his life.” It’s a cinematic role-reversal that was deliberate on Cohen’s part. “If you look at my filmography I’ve always tried to bring the woman’s role up to the man’s, if not surpassing the man’s,” he says, pointing to strong female characters like Lauren Holly as Linda Lee, Jordana Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez, Jennifer Lopez (from The Boy Next Door). “A lot of my life has been tangled up with various relationships with strong women. My mother was a strong woman,” Cohen says. “We need balance, balance and respect, and this is my way of helping that, in my own way.”

There’s another actor in the film: Cohen himself. Cohen has been present – Stan Lee-style – in the background of several of his films (xXx, The Skulls, Fast and Furious), though he insists this time a plot omission and budget restraints necessitated his appearance.  “We saw there was a plot hole, and I’m making a lower-budget $35 million action film. We literally could not afford to bring another actor in, so ‘all right, I’ll do it’!”

It’s one of those cameos – as the pizza delivery guy in The Fast and the Furious – that gets Cohen the most love. “Occasionally I’ll get stopped by fans and I think they want my autograph because I’m the director, but they’ll say ‘hey, you were awesome as the pizza guy’!”

It’s a director’s lot in life, though, right? “You know what they say: directors are just men too short to be actors . . . ”

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