Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia star as a pair of jerkoff New York City homicide detectives. Nick Conklin (Douglas) is like totally a badass rebel and stuff. You can tell because he wears a leather jacket and sunglasses, and rides a rad motorcycle. He's got street smarts, baby, and everybody knows that makes him cool. Plus, he's always standing up to the "suits" who boss him around and isn't afraid to tell them off and everything. Yeah man, don't mess with the rebel! His partner Charlie Vincent (Garcia) is more of a fast-talking slickster with big career ambitions. Even though he wears a suit, Nick totally gets him and they're best friends and all anyway.
So these arrogant pricks happen to be in a restaurant when they witness a bunch of Japanese Yakuza gangsters bump off an Italian Mafioso. Nick leaps into action and beats the crap out of one of the dirty Japs, but is stopped short of killing him when backup arrives. You see, Nick's sort of under investigation for corruption and doesn't need another black mark on his record. Too bad. Well, it turns out that the perp has to be extradited back to Japan, and who better to escort him on the trip than a couple of racist dickweeds like Nick and Charlie? Off to Osaka they go, handing him off to the local authorities as soon as the plane lands. Except that, oh crap, those guys with badges and paperwork weren't cops at all. They were Yakuza just impersonating cops! Sneaky bastards! Obviously, Nick and Charlie can't go home now, not when all the police in Japan are a bunch of stuffy uptight suits who don't know anything about real policework. Oh no, it's gonna take a couple of genuine NYC badasses to hunt down a criminal mastermind like this.
Thus sets in motion a by-the-numbers revenge plot in which the then-45 year old Michael Douglas gets to pretend that he could still pass as a relevant action hero for the '80s, riding motorcycles and kicking ass like nobody's business. The early scenes where he acts like Tom Cruise in Top Gun are especially embarrassing, and I swear to god that Douglas is styled with the exact same mullet that Mel Gibson sported in the first Lethal Weapon, as if it had been surgically removed from Gibson and planted on his head. The movie is absurdly cheesy and dated, with riotously insipid hard-boiled dialogue delivered with the utmost conviction by actors who ought to know better. The story is pure formula drivel, and for all the lip service it pays to notions of cultural harmony and tolerance (with Conklin learning some valuable life lessons in the end), the script is racist trash through and through, borne out of the 1980s American xenophobia that Japan was on the verge of taking over the world economically and culturally.
What little appeal the movie holds comes mostly down to the stylings of its direction. Scott gives us a dank and dirty New York followed by an almost Blade Runner-like vision of Osaka as a distopian metropolis: crowded, cluttered, and garish yet sleek and futuristic. The frame is constantly filled with flashing lights, bursts of steam, or little bits of detail to draw the eye. It's fascinating to look at (if not think too much about) for a while, but eventually even this aspect starts to feel like a pretentious music video.
Don't get me wrong, Black Rain does still hold some entertainment value, just not in any of the ways it was originally intended. If your brain doesn't fight against it too much, the movie can be sort of enjoyably dumb. But no, it's not a good film by any means, nostalgic notions of it being exotic and cool notwithstanding. It's just a lame cop buddy picture with some nice production design and photography, attributes that can't overcome its greater shortcomings.
The HD DVD:
HD DVD discs are only playable in a compatible HD DVD player. They will not function in a standard DVD player or in a Blu-Ray player. Please note that the star rating scales for video and audio are relative to other High Definition disc content, not to traditional DVD.
The photography by Jan de Bont (future director of Speed and Twister) is visually compelling with a good amount of detail and depth, but favors dark and dank textures that may not be appreciated by all High-Def viewers. The picture has very nice colors, just not the sort that pop off the screen. The transfer looks very good nonetheless, if not quite perfect. Some edge enhancement ringing is present, and digital compression problems are notable in frozen grain patterns during the New York scenes. That's less of a problem once the movie transitions to Japan. For a picture from the late 80s, Black Rain's video quality holds up pretty well.
The Black Rain HD DVD is not flagged with an Image Constraint Token and will play in full High Definition quality over an HD DVD player's analog Component Video outputs.
Subs & Dubs:
The three (four if you count the way the making-of special has been broken into two uneven parts) video featurettes were produced by Laurent Bouzereau and feel like they were designed as one long documentary that's been split into pieces to reduce the interviewees' royalty payments.
Black Rain is the sort of movie you remember as better than it really is and wish that it could hold up to your expectations, but doesn't. At all. It's actually kind of hilariously awful. The HD DVD's picture is pretty good and the sound is just OK. Rent it, don't buy.