Imagine ordering a limousine pickup at the airport and John Cena shows up as your driver. It's something a number of real people got to experience before Cena was famous, when he worked as a limo driver. But a lift from the man who would become the most decorated professional wrestler of all time was ... not as thrilling as it sounds.
"I was not a good limo driver -- on my first pickup, I was three hours late," the WWE superstar said. Just out of high school and living in Massachusetts at the time, Cena had "never traveled" and was unfamiliar with the routes wanted by the client waiting at Boston Logan International Airport.
"I was just taking the wrong road over and over and over again," he said. "This was 1995, so there were no mobile phones, so I couldn't call anybody and go, 'Yo, I'm lost.' I was just late."
His stint at the limo company ended in four months. But Cena has improved his lot rather considerably since. When "F9: The Fast Saga" debuts in theaters nationwide today, the 44-year-old actor and entertainer will join the $5 billion franchise as Jakob Toretto, the long-lost brother and current arch-rival of Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel). Where wrestling fans are used to Cena being the good guy, Jakob Toretto holds a grudge ... and then some.
"Sometimes we are estranged from our family for such a long time over the smallest and insignificant things, just because we have a different perspective," Cena says, hinting at the potentially lethal antics of his petulant character.
The series, known for its wild car chases, video game-style fight scenes, and over-the-top stunts, sees the return of director Justin Lin, who oversaw chapters three through six of the series and effectively translated it into a global blockbuster. This time, the story finds Diesel and his team -- Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges), Mia (Jordana Brewster) and Han (Sung Kang) -- hurtle around the globe from London to Tokyo and from Central America to Edinburgh, Azerbaijan and even outer space.
JAKOB GETS INVOLVED
The chase begins after they discover that the plane carrying a Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) has gone down in the Central American jungle with the villain Cipher (Charlize Theron). Cipher, fans will recall, first appeared in 2017's "The Fate of the Furious," while Mr. Nobody first appeared in 2015's "Furious 7." Then Jakob gets involved, hunting an object that Diesel and his team must ensure he never obtains.
As usual, the high jinks commence in explosive, vehicular style. There's Dom Toretto's $1 million custom-built Dodge Charger and the modified blue 2016 Ford Mustang GT350 V8 that Jakob Toretto drives through the streets of downtown Los Angeles like an escaping convict. According to "F9" vehicle supervisor and longtime "Fast and the Furious" visionary Dennis McCarthy, the Dodge vs. Ford tension was meant to mirror the brothers' own family rift.
"Over the years, the cast cars have developed along with each character and have become extensions of who they are," McCarthy says. "With each new chapter, my objective is to sync the cars with the cast. The goal is always for the audience to instantly know which car is for which character."
When the gang decamps to Europe, Letty drives a 1969 Chevy II Nova. (She's even better on the Yamaha YZ250F and Harley-Davidson Iron motorcycles.) Han (yes, he's back) drives an orange-and-black Toyota Supra reminiscent of his Mazda RX-7 from "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift."
Meanwhile, Tej drives a modified Jeep Gladiator and Roman drives Honda NSX and Marauder military vehicle -- and they both get inside a humbler car, too: a 1984 Pontiac Fiero. It just so happens that the American-made rustbucket has rocket engines tied on top, which come in handy for that segment in outer space.
The scenes in that car proved to be the most challenging ones to shoot, Bridges said.
"Man, shooting that space scene was extremely uncomfortable," he said. "We had layers of clothes on. We were hot as hell. We were suspended by these harnesses we had on, just suspended in air."
(Bridges, by the way, is an avowed believer in extraterrestrials, especially after the latest declassified government reports: "I definitely believe in aliens," he said with a laugh. "There are more galaxies than there are pieces of sand on a beach, so you have to believe in other life forms out there, you know. It's just dependent on when we are able to encounter them, for sure.")
The best eye candy for car lovers comes midway through the film, just outside an exclusive party that the elusive Queenie Shaw (Helen Mirren) haunts. They're all parked, as if in real life, along the streets of London's posh Mayfair neighborhood near the high-end jeweler Boodles: a Bugatti Veyron, a Bentley Continental GT, a Rolls-Royce Wraith, an Aston Martin Rapide, a Morgan Aero 8, and a Mercedes SLR McLaren. All told, those cars alone -- plus the extremely rare and built-by-hand British supercar Noble M600 that Queenie cops for a getaway joy ride -- are worth more than $3.8 million.
Queenie drives Dom to a party in which the Mayfair group is improbably upstaged. Heaving with beautiful women, the event is thrown by billionaire enfant terrible Otto (Thue Ersted Rasmussen) at his home on the manicured and sprawling grounds of Hatfield House, a Jacobean estate located outside London. Here, McCarthy's genius reaches new heights as he invited more than a dozen private car collectors to show off their own prizes in the scene. On display are a TVR Sagaris, a Lamborghini Aventador SVJ, a Lexus LFA, a Lotus Evora, a Mercedes AMG GT R, a Lamborghini Countach Anniversary Edition, a McLaren 720S, a Ferrari La Ferrari, and an Apollo Intensa Emozione.
For Bridges, who has bought a car from every "Fast and the Furious" film set for his own collection -- starting with the Louis Vuitton-wrapped Dodge Ram pickup in 2003 -- this was a drool-inducing smorgasbord of automotive excellence. "Being able to see such a plethora and so many different cars all within one setting, as opposed to me having to search for these cars myself, is a blessing within itself," he said.
The Apollo alone would stop traffic if seen on a California highway. With a starting price of $2.7 million and a top speed of 208 mph, only 10 were built. Such pricing wouldn't pose a problem for the Atlanta-based artist -- but something far more mundane and considerably more practical made him hesitate to snag that, or anything else, from the "F9" installment.
"We shot all those cars in Scotland and England," he said with a chuckle. "I didn't want to have any issues driving with the steering wheel on the other side in the States."