Wednesday, January 22, 1997

Hard Rain

Posted By on Wed, Jan 22, 1997 at 12:00 AM

You know that moviegoers are getting spoiled when natural disasters become viable box-office draws.

Following on the trail of gems such as Twister, Backdraft and Volcano, Mikael Salomon's Hard Rain juggles the biblical with the secular when rains beat the streets of Huntingburg into torrential submission.

Tom (Christian Slater), a ludicrously sincere armored car courier, is moving $3 million in cash, along with his dear Uncle Charlie (Ed Asner), when their vehicle gets stopped in the enormous flood. Jim (Morgan Freeman) and his gang of rogues descend onto the stranded car by way of its SOS and a clash arises for the prodigious greenbacks. Randy Quaid shows up as a shit-eating sheriff charged to protect the booty, and before avarice can rear itself, we're already rooting for multiple deaths by drowning.

Hard Rain's writer, Graham Yost (Speed, Broken Arrow), sets his story's value well above the fatalism hinted by recent disaster dreck The Titanic and gleans a nuanced tale of corruption from the melodrama. Everyone around straight-laced Tom is perversely Nietzschean in their will to ignore the ersatz tide. And it rises. Even as Jim stays on Tom's back like white on rice, the picture's nonstop downpour forces a claustrophobic angst that is unnerving at best.

The character study that ensues is lukewarm, but a few good performances and director of photography Peter Menzies Jr.'s moody camera work wrest some chilly, even provocative symbolism from the whole affair. Slater's wooden hero becomes our only beacon of sanity as random freaks reveal their wild sides in the rain. Freeman anchors the mess as a career thief with a rocky escape plan, even if in one scene, when he emerges from the waters with two gats blasting like Harvey Keitel in Reservoir Dogs, it's a sight hard to believe.

Eventually an exhausting but pointed firefight turns bad guys into do-gooders, and in a key scene a rescuee thanks Jim, only to be told, "You still haven't learned. I'm here for the money." That's entertainment. No, that's Hollywood.

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