How F9 Ended up with That Puzzling Product Placement

The Fast & Furious franchise is known for flaunting tech that strains credibility, but F9's smartphone saga takes the biscuit.

Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez in F9

This article contains spoilers for F9

Now that F9 is streaming on HBO Max, cars n’ splosions fans who weren’t able to check out the penultimate entry into the Fast & Furious franchise last year are finally getting a chance to catch up with the film’s ludicrous plot and its set up for the upcoming tenth installment. But if F9 turned out to be a rather frustrating affair for a keen audience still very dedicated to the saga, it was perhaps even more so for those who tinkered away on its pricey product placement behind the scenes and who agreed to stuff RED’s Hydrogen One smartphone into proceedings.

First announced in mid-2018, RED’s hardcore gadget was hyped up as the world’s first holographic mobile phone, and excitement had been growing around its fancy display and algorithm, so the Hydrogen One probably made for a good F9 product placement bedfellow at the time, albeit one with a $1,300 price tag for prospective customers.

Sure enough, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Han Lue (Sung Kang) are both seen utilizing the Hydrogen One in the blockbuster, with the phone starring as a mostly dash-connected system for the iconic speedsters, and RED were rumored to have paid out a lot of cash for the pleasure. The phone itself, however, hadn’t exactly launched a new handheld revolution in the meantime. Reviewers really weren’t keen on it, and the company quickly decided to discontinue the Hydrogen One and step back from the smartphone industry altogether.

Ad – content continues below

Unfortunately, this was after filming on F9 had already wrapped, and the film was still months from release. Thanks to pandemic delays, the highly anticipated flick was also pushed back to mid-2021 – a year after the failed Hydrogen One was discontinued – leaving Dom and co. fiddling with some high concept tech that perhaps even your most gadget-obsessed friend would struggle to remember from the recent past.

F9 wasn’t the only big 2021 movie that embraced the distinctive phone, though. Netflix’s smash hit climate change satire Don’t Look Up also featured various characters handing the “BASH LiiF” celly, a new smartphone release lauded by BASH company founder Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance) in the film. But the BASH Liif was just RED’s Hydrogen One with some poetic license, and this time it had intentionally stood in for that movie’s next gen product in a pinch thanks to prop master Michael Bates.

“I remember asking him early on like, ‘Michael, how are we going to have a phone that doesn’t just look like your standard phones that are out there?'” Don’t Look Up director Adam McKay told CNET. “And he goes, ‘Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it,’ And then he comes back with that phone. He goes, ‘This is a whole cellphone that [RED] made. They never released it. Check it out.’ And I started playing with it. I was like, ‘Why didn’t they release this? This is incredible.’ But apparently it’s technically not consumer-friendly.”

It may not have been “consumer-friendly” but the Hydrogen One ended up leaving an indelible mark on 2021 cinema nonetheless! Oh, and it also popped up in Marvel’s Runaways, where it masqueraded as the evil ‘Corvus’ phone that had world domination firmly on its mind.

RIP to a real one.