OK, here's a rhetorical question for you: How awful is Rain? The not-so-rhetorical answer: Pretty darn awful.
But awful can be watchable, at least intermittently, and this loosely based adaptation of V.C. Andrews' 2000 novel holds mild campy appeal. Well, make that very mild campy appeal.
In this sappy sudser, director Craig DiBona and screenwriter Andrew Neiderman serve up a buffet line of groan-inducing clichés, with its ingénue heroine traipsing through clunky subplots that run the gamut from secret children and clashes of culture to rape and murder.
The storyline is shaggier than Austin Powers' diary. Rain Arnold (Brooklyn Sudano) is a 19-year-old African-American woman living with her parents and two siblings in a crime-infested ghetto. Rain is the quintessential good girl - forthright and selfless, polite and compassionate. She sings in the church choir and vainly tries keeping younger sister Beni (Jerrika Hinton) from fraternizing with the neighborhood gangstas.
It's a thankless task. Beni winds up gang-raped while passed out, and the principal hoodlum, Jared (Mario Mims), threatens to distribute photographs of the naked, unconscious Beni throughout the hood. Beni enlists the help of Rain; both sisters march over to Jared's hangout and demand the photos. The gangstas decline. Beni is killed in the ensuing struggle. Rain barely escapes with her life.
As contrivance would have it, Rain has recently discovered that her parents are not really her parents at all, but that she is the biological child of a wealthy white woman who long ago paid the Arnolds to raise the girl as their own. Rain's adopted mother (Khandi Alexander) pressures the real mama (LeeAnne Locken) to give Rain a place to hide out.
One thing leads to another, and Rain ends up in the care of her biological grandmother, Isabel Hudson (Faye Dunaway -- that's right, Faye Dunaway is in this mess), a richer-than-sin Southern elder who resides all by her lonesome in a plantation-style mansion. Mrs. Hudson isn't keen on playing hostess to the girl from the wrong side of the tracks, but the old woman lives near a prestigious performing-arts school, and Rain has oodles of raw singing talent.
Will Rain melt Mrs. Hudson's curmudgeonly heart? Will Jared track down Rain? Will Rain be successful at the school? When will this end?
Clichés pour down fast and furiously in Rain. No well-worn convention is too tired to flog. Rain tells her adopted mother, "So you're going to see a doctor about those dizzy spells?" and you know to start the countdown toward mom's untimely death. When Rain's brother Roy (Julius Washington) predicts that his sister will be a star someday, Rain modestly replies, "Keep dreaming." It elicits a quick retort from Roy: "Hey! It starts with a dream!" Ipecac should work as well as this dialogue.
Newcomer Sudano has an impossible task in the title role, a protagonist who is largely passive. She has decent vocal pipes -- she's the daughter of disco diva Donna Summer, incidentally -- but her musical performances in the flick are hardly worth the enchanted expressions they draw from other characters. Sudano's acting is wooden, but then again no one aside from Dunaway seems to know how to have fun with this silliness. Even such accomplished character actors as Robert Loggia and Giancarlo Esposito seem adrift.
But Rain has plenty else working against it, from a sluggish pace to awkward, stagy direction. Ugh.
The widescreen picture is decent enough quality, but hardly noteworthy. Imagery tends to be flat and beset in spots by minor noise. The aspect ratio is 1.85:1.
The sound mix in Dolby Digital 2.0 is curiously inconsistent in volume. You'll likely find yourself cranking it up to hear the dialogue. Proceed at your own peril.
Pack an umbrella -- or better yet, stay indoors.