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Hard Rain is the newest film to emerge in Hollywood's rediscovered infatuation with the disaster genre. However, in this movie, the filmmakers aren't content to merely focus on the disaster of the week--in this case, a flood. Instead, we get a crime yarn where a squad of sublimely stupid crooks try to rob an armored car of $3,000,000 while constantly-rising flood waters threaten to submerge an entire town. In an ever-increasing crescendo of explosions, gun fire, and torrents of water, Hard Rain provides an overkill of noise and action that works like a dog chasing its own tail--it might be going fast and snapping furiously, but it goes absolutely nowhere.
Christian Slater, who after Broken Arrow seems intent on becoming an action movie star, sloshes through the rising flood waters while Morgan Freeman and his band of idiots pursue on Jet Skis. Director Mikael Salomon and cinematographer Peter Menzies, Jr. provide some interesting visuals, such as a shoot out in a half-submerged cemetery, where Slater and Freeman dodge behind tombstones and monuments as bullets whiz past their heads. But the entire movie feels pre-manufactured. The action scenes, with only a few exceptions, look like something you might see while touring a movie studio back lot--all so carefully timed and rehearsed that they never feel dangerous.
In Hard Rain, the concept itself overpowers the human characters, and all we are left with is a ludicrous series of climaxes. This is how Hollywood prefers to make movies nowadays. Instead of giving us characters that we can care about (Christian Slater is given a paper-thin character with a generic background), Hard Rain gives us loads of watery special effects. I'm sure it's easier to make movies this way. All the intelligence goes into designing ways to make the flood seem perilously real. The concept itself is all-important and the filmmaking becomes little more than crowd control. This type of movie making values the producers and technicians, but it allows no room for creative work. Hard Rain is all about "The Event."
When James Cameron made Titanic, he emphasized the human part of the story. He didn't just give us a story about a ship that sank. He made us care just as much about the people as we did about the stunning special effects. Hard Rain does give us several potentially interesting characters, but in every case the interesting bits of character get fumbled. Randy Quaid plays the town sheriff, recently voted out of office, who continues to perform his job and evacuate the town. What happens to him when he learns that $3,000,000 is up for grabs? He becomes little more than a snarling monster: "For 20 years I've been eating shit for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But from now on, I'm eating shit free," he says. Morgan Freeman is the world-weary mastermind behind the robbery. We can feel the fatigue and disappointment in his voice as he deals with the trigger-happy fools in his employ (sort of like Robert Ryan in The Wild Bunch): "I came for the money," he says. And we experience the gradual shift of alliances that actually aligns him with the armored car courier played by Slater--an intriguing development that the filmmakers fail to utilize effectively. This shift in alliances feels suspiciously similar to the friendship that develops between Chow Yun Fat's assassin and Danny Lee's police detective in John Woo's The Killer. However, screenwriter Graham Yost (who also wrote Broken Arrow and Speed) only sets up the situations, as if the situations themselves are enough. And director Mikael Salomon definitely isn't in the same category as Woo. He has devised an operatic-scaled action movie that goes around in circles--first one side has the money, then the other, like the old serials where the good guys and bad guys had to quarrel over the "whatzit" for 15 chapters. Characters get shot and left for dead, only to keep coming back, time after time after time--ad infinitum.
In addition, the flood itself is hardly convincing. The set itself must be one of the largest sets ever constructed, but it contains the cleanest flood water on record. Anyone who has been through a flood knows that floodwater is a churning mixture of water and dirt. It's so thick with silt that it has the consistency of a milk shake. However, in Hard Rain the flood water is perfectly clear. Oh, it might pick up paper and other assorted trash--but never dirt, gravel, or anything else that might discolor the water. The actors get to swim underwater with their eyes wide open, with a visibility of over 20 feet. You might call this nit-picking: who cares if the water should actually be as opaque as a good thick glass of hot chocolate? But it's this kind of oversight that eventually sinks the movie--everything about Hard Rain feels carefully constructed by Hollywood technicians. But it's a squeaky clean type of construction where the little things that make the film's world come to life are strangely absent.
Hard Rain is a monster of a movie, a movie designed by businessmen and technicians. When Morgan Freeman shouts out "I came for the money," he might be speaking for the producers: they just want to separate the audience from the money in their wallets.
[rating: 1 of 4 stars]