Genre: Action and Heist Running Time: 1 hr. 37 min.
Release Date: January 16th, 1998 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Mikael Salomon Actors: Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater, Randy Quaid, Minnie Driver, Ed Asner, Michael A. Goorjian, Dann Florek, Ricky Harris, Mark Rolston, Betty White
o … are we all gonna die?” glibly jokes Sheriff Mike Collig (Randy Quaid) as the rainwater rises, turning the Huntingburg, Indiana streets into a mushy mess. As people are evacuated, cars are diverted, and the mayor himself is instructed to leave the vicinity, armored truck drivers Uncle Charlie (Edward Asner) and Tom (Christian Slater) make their final few stops at various banks to collect bags of money. But just as they’re about to return to their base, a heavily flooded road brings them to a complete stop. With no one around and the National Guard approximately two hours out, they realize they can’t just sit there until the entire vehicle is submerged.
As luck would have it, a band of robbers are aware of the truck’s precious cargo ($3 million in cash), and make a specific stop to acquire their “retirement fund.” But Tom has other ideas, managing to drag the money away in the waist-deep waters, safekeeping it as a method to ensure his survival. However, ringleader thief Jim (Morgan Freeman), aided by recklessly inept Kenny (Michael Goorjian), schoolteacher-cum-explosives-expert Mr. Mehlor (Dann Florek), and bible-verse-spouting Ray (Ricky Harris), aren’t about to let the loot elude them so easily.
With very little setup, “Hard Rain” is immediately exciting, staging shootouts, explosions, and jet ski stunts. The sets are also quite impressive, ranging from wide shots of the town to a school to a church to a cemetery to various shops, all halfway underwater. It’s an amusing series of battlegrounds, posing believable, hazardous obstacles; and as the floodgates are regularly opened, causing sudden bursts of violent waves, the environments grow even deadlier. A considerable percentage of the appeal of this film is due to the locations and the downpour itself – something of a character that affects everyone in increasingly more striking ways.
Of course, at its heart, “Hard Rain” is an actioner, utilizing plenty of moments of suspense, harrowing escapes, fast-speed pursuits, and thundering music (by Christopher Young). There are even a number of macho one-liners thrown in for good measure (“Low tide, sailor”). Plus, there’s a toughly independent woman (Minnie Driver as Karen) who becomes an impromptu partner for Tom, and some dependable villains – given enough time for character development so that they’re more than cookie-cutter pilferers. Freeman in particular is the kind of antagonist who comes across as a little more sensible and complicated (and perhaps even sympathetic) than the typical Terminator-like killer.
There isn’t much substance to the plot, as it’s essentially just a long chase (a heist movie crossed with a disaster flick), though there are enough twists to change up the hunters and the hunted. The pacing is exceptionally well executed, keeping up a speedy momentum, leaving very few moments for lulls. Comic relief does surface – primarily from Betty White as a formidable homeowner and from Mark Rolston as a whiny police officer – but the attention to action and stunts is consistent. This is a sharply photographed, sparkling little thriller, full of appropriate slow-motion, exciting confrontations in unique settings, and a rip-roaring climax – even if all the guns work just fine after being soused in every other sequence, unintentional laughs pop up from unusual perseverance, and the characters seem immoderately invincible during the storm-ridden chaos (like “Die Hard” in a deluge).
– Mike Massie