Johnson Family Vacation : The Ride: About The Johnson Family Car

Nate Johnson wants to take the Johnson family to Missouri in style – in his brand new luxury SUV, a classy, black Lincoln Navigator. But even that doesn’t turn out as planned. When Nate takes the car in to get an 8-track tape player installed, he winds up with a total hip-hop overhaul that offends his far more conventional sensibilities. Suddenly, he’s riding around in a tricked-out car with spinning rims, video game consoles and a running-at-the-mouth on-board navigation system. To create the full look of the Johnson family car, the filmmakers, like Nate, took the Johnson’s Navigator to the celebrity car customizers at 310 Motoring, who have designed cars for countless celebrities. There, the SUV was rigged to the heights of hip-hop perfection. As producer Eric C. Rhone notes: “You’ve never seen a Navigator so tricked out.”

Says co-screenwriter Todd R. Jones: “From the beginning we always thought of the Navigator as being another character in the movie, another part of the family along for the ride. Of course, Nate hates the whole hip hop world and this car is Mr. Hip Hop, so he feels kind of trapped in it. But the interesting thing is that the car gets him through this harrowing trip, and he starts to develop a respect for it.”
Christopher Erskin sums up the appeal of the car this way: “It was our version of THE LOVE BUG. It’s had to escape an 18 wheeler that tries to crash into it, a mishap with a cement truck, and a run-in with a motorcycle cop, among other things, but somehow it gets the family to Missouri. It helps the family survive, and you have to kind of love that about it. Even Nate has to acknowledge that there might be something good about hip hop if it led to this car.”

In the end, the production used four different Navigators including one with high-tech, over-the-top hydraulics and another with “three-wheel motion” that allowed it to take the kind of ultra-sharp turns only a family being chased needs to maneuver through. Because so much of JOHNSON FAMILY VACATION takes place in the Navigator, many scenes were shot on a stage, in front of a green screen, inside a specially modified Navigator with parts of the body cut-away to allow all kinds of different interior camera angles. (Meanwhile, a second unit of photography traveled across America bringing back footage that became the cross-country background to the Johnson’s turbulent trip.)
Spending so much time inside the tight spaces of the car seemed a fitting challenge for cast and crew. “It was a transforming experience,” says Christopher Erskin. “And that’s the great thing about the American road trip – it has always transformed American families. You set out in one direction but you end up somewhere different, you end up not quite the same. Nine times out of ten, I think families wind up for the better. Maybe husbands hug their wives a little more, brothers are a little nicer to sisters and the family starts to have fun together again.”