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Hard Rain (1998)
High-concept twaddle that rolled off the assembly line after the megasuccess of "Speed," "Hard Rain" sometimes makes it impossible to appreciate what few extraordinary qualities it's managed to retain. It's big, dumb, noisy, and teeming with idiotic dialogue, yet the finished feature has a certain merry swagger about it that keeps everything motoring right along, and the hook of the film is immaculately presented. The sort of movie that justifies the invention of the mute button, "Hard Rain" is, ahem, waterlogged at times, but it's a convincing pile of wet clichés, boosted by the infrequent action sequence that delivers a pleasing jolt.
Huntingburg, Indiana is getting smacked with the storm of the century, with rising flood waters forcing residents out of town. Caught in the rain are armored truck drivers Charlie (Edward Asner) and Tom (Christian Slater), who find themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere as the water begins to collect. Taking advantage of the situation are Jim (Morgan Freeman) and his gang of criminals, out to steal the multi-million-dollar cash collection from the back of the truck. When the gang kills Charlie, Tom escapes with the coin, soon hiding the bags and heading into town to look for help. On patrol is the Sheriff (Randy Quaid), who believes Tom's story of robbery and pursuit, taking him into custody as the storm intensifies. Also becoming involved is Karen (Minnie Driver), a local woman desperate to preserve a recently restored church, eventually becoming the only person Tom can completely trust.
"Hard Rain" represents the last gasp of the properly budgeted, adrenaline-tapping action cinema of the 1990s, where it didn't exactly matter if there was sound logic or witty dialogue within the pages, as the long as the picture knew how to sprint. The motivating element here isn't a bomb or any sort of madman on the loose, but water. Buckets of it, filling the town of Huntingburg slowly but surely as a heist-gone-wrong quickly spirals out of control. Scripted by "Speed" and "Broken Arrow" writer Graham Yost, "Hard Rain" (originally titled "The Flood," a more appropriate label quickly peeled off the project due to the horrific water disasters of 1997) has one heck of a juicy gimmick that's executed impressively by director Mikael Salomon.
If "Hard Rain" was produced today, it would be a lowly Syfy Channel Original, with principal actors holed up inside some type of command center while occasional cutaways reveal a P.A. pouring Evian over a crappy town model. "Hard Rain" isn't intellectually stimulating, but it's superbly produced, with an entire municipality created on a stage specifically for the purpose of controlling the cinematic flood. The actors are trapped in the wet, looking authentically uncomfortable, splashing around dodging bullets and boats, and Salomon makes something entertaining out of the potential inertia.
As ludicrous as the movie is, there's something highly exhilarating about Tom being chased by baddies on Jet Skis around an abandoned middle school, or another corker that has our hero madly searching for a way out of his holding cell as water pours into a police station. Realism is a huge component of "Hard Rain," which eschews most CG tinkering to toss the talent into the deep end and see how they react. The cocktail of sets, models, and pools lends the picture an outstanding fingerprint, eventually let down by a few of the performances and a steady spewing of abysmal dialogue.
Sheriff: For twenty years, I've been eatin' shit; breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So now I'm changing the menu. From here on, everything I eat is gonna be shit-free.
In what would be his last role of studio faith for quite some time, Christian Slater sustains the proper expression of agitation and dollar-store bravado as Tom. Working the water gymnastics to the best of his ability, Slater makes for a respectable action hero, while remaining the only one in the cast who lands an approachable one-liner. Worse is Quaid, misreading Sheriff's unpredictability as an opportunity to chew scenery, while Freeman just sort of wades around waiting for something to do. Yost never quite nails Jim's ominous qualities, making him a blue-collar pussycat with a gun, unthreatening to the end. As for Driver, I must admit it's a cheap thrill to hear her fight her embarrassing Midwestern throughout the picture.
The AVC encoded image (2.35:1 aspect ratio) on the "Hard Rain" BD isn't exceptional, lacking the sort of robust HD workout the production deserves. Instances of DNR pull needed detail out of faces, though the perpetual moisture of the film still manages to read clearly. Colors are generally drained and lack vitality, while shadow detail is poor, clouding up a few key low-light sequences. In the second half of the picture, I noticed some print damage that's not entirely distracting, but certainly visible. Overall, the visual elements are not a complete failure, with a majority of the film benefiting from a small-scale HD upgrade. If one can hurdle the budget-title treatment the BD receives, it's a passable viewing experience.
Exploding into your home theater is a DTS-HD 7.1 mix that really gives the experience a fitting kick. With rain a consistent screen element, the track sustains a magnificent stormy mood, with surrounds maintaining a steady drizzle. Underwater action is equally as underlined, creating a plausible submerged quality to assist in the suspense. Gunshots and thunderclaps keep LFE response busy, with a terrific splashy fullness to the action sequences. Scoring is on the tinny side, but comfortably balanced with the knucklehead dialogue exchanges, which always register cleanly, despite outdoor chaos.
English, English SDH, and Spanish subtitles are offered.
A Theatrical Trailer has been included.
"Hard Rain" brings on the flood for the grand finale, but it also deteriorates into a noisy mess, taking much too long to pay off the double-crosses and switcheroos. The simplicity of villainy hip-deep in rainwater is booted for banal gunplay and silly fake-out deaths, leaving the material disappointingly fatigued as it wheezes to a conclusion. I'm not sure if I enjoyed "Hard Rain" as a whole, but I certainly marveled at its craftsmanship, and it does retain a few a crude pops of waterlogged violence that make it worth a sit. Just bring an umbrella and some earplugs.