Published January 1, 1998
Hard Rain by Mikael Salomon could have been and almost is a really competently managed thriller. Half-way through it I was weighing up whether it deserved one or two stars and delighting in what I took to be an unexpected throwback to the old days in Hollywood when the stories the movies told were tough but never merely cynical. I should have known better. Right at the beginning, as we were watching a gang of robbers led by Jim (Morgan Freeman) plan an armored car heist, one of the bad guys had started quoting scripture, so the writing was on the wall, as you might say. In the movies today, Bible-study is always associated with psychopathic behavior. But after that moment, the sneering, cynical Hollywood ethos which has become so familiar hardly makes an appearance until well on in the picture. Yet when it does, the whole thing collapses like the houses being washed away by the flood on the screen.
As in L.A. Confidential, which is rapidly becoming my favorite reference point for what is wrong with the movies these days, the film shows us two young people who are inexplicably good while all around them society, and especially authority and the sources of social order, reeks of corruption. Christian Slater plays Tom, the young armored car guard whose dogged faithfulness to his charge, even at repeated risk to his own life, looks merely bizarre and possibly insane the more that everyone around him, including his uncle and fellow guard (Edward Asner) and all Jim’s gang members as well as the local sheriff (Randy Quaid) and all his deputies show that they care for nothing but themselves. As Tom’s obligatory female companion, whose handiness with a pen knife saves both him and herself, Minnie Driver has motivations for risking her life that are even more obscure. Heck, there have got to be some limits on what a girl will do to hang out with Christian Slater.
Rain and the rising floodwaters are the leitmotif of the picture. Again and again there are shots of the local dam coming under more and more pressure from the waters it cannot hold back. So in addition to the frequent, three-sided gunplay in pursuit of the $3 million dollars from the armored car, we must worry about whether whoever gets the money will get out of town ahead of the inevitable flood. This issue is unfortunately dodged in the end. The dam’s bursting, when it comes, is anticlimactic and affects the action hardly at all. So we are left to watch with less and less interest as the social structure of the movie’s world disintegrates along with the character of its guardians (corrupt police have now become such a cliché in Hollywood that the filmmakers don’t even bother to justify it in dramatic terms anymore—they’re bad just because they’re bad) and along with the dam. And along, too, with the movie itself.