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'Hard Rain,' A Real Washout

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 16, 1998

  Movie Critic

Hard Rain Morgan Freemand and Christian Slater star in "Hard Rain." (Paramount)

Mikael Salomon
Christian Slater;
Morgan Freeman;
Minnie Driver;
Randy Quaid;
Edward Asner;
Mark Rolstan;
Richard A. Dysart
Running Time:
1 hour, 39 minutes
Under 17 restricted

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"Hard Rain" is so wet it must be set on the 40th night. And pay no attention to that old goat building something big in his backyard; that's one of the writers, still trying to get the structure right.

The movie watches as various teams of the innocent and the guilty angle for a $3 million payoff in the brunt of one of thoseonce-in-a-century floods that go sweeping across the flat middle of the country. The milieu, besides being soaked, is alsomorally provisional: There's no truly good guy, only varying degrees of bad-good and good-bad. Oh, except for MinnieDriver, who could be described as wet-good.

It begins with crusty (good-bad) Ed Asner, a career armored car driver, hauling his ingrate nephew Christian Slater on a run totake the county's bank cash -- the $3 million -- to higher ground. They are being stalked by an odd lot of amateur robbers, ledby crafty Morgan Freeman (bad but good), who look upon the take as their chance at retirement. Meanwhile, the embitteredsheriff (Randy Quaid) -- good but bad -- and his no-'count deputies, including a guy who reads Guns & Ammo on the bowl,decide they could use the three mil to knotty-pine the inside of their trailers. In the middle of all this, Minnie Driver is a townierestoring the church to its 19th-century glories, and no wisecracks about the glories of 19th-century Indiana churches. Whoknew floods were so busy?

That's about it, except that the director, Mikael Salomon, has seen either too much John Woo or not enough. At one point, heeven twins a good guy and a good-bad guy in a burning church where they fight a merrily crazed gun fray exactly as ChowYun Fat and Danny Lee did in Woo's woo-dacious "The Killer." He aspires to create one of those spectacular acrobatic tonepoems of pure kinetic lyricism, with gunfights and speedboat chases so dizzying you're not supposed to notice or care aboutplot idiocies.

Well, it's a miscalculation. In fact, all you notice are the plot idiocies, the way people keep running into each other in the chaosof a major flood. I admit I did like the scene where the guys jet-skied through a high school. The movie even has room forBetty White as a mean old lady whom everyone gets to see humiliated. But what's she doing in the picture -- still lusting afterLou Grant? As for the idea that speedboats flying through the air are intrinsically fascinating, that may hold true -- if you're 7and this is your first movie.

Otherwise, the film has enough weirdness to fill a movie by, and not about, Waters (twisted filmmaker John Waters). First isthe complete absence of fear. As a physical production, "Hard Rain" is at its most effective when it evokes the utter desolationof a world being consumed by water. It's "Titanic" without lifeboats. But no one responds to this as threat. In fact, no one everseems remotely agitated. The movie, at times, feels more like a dotty Esther Williams swimming musical, as various folks gocavorting through the like baby seals. In one astonishing sequence, Slater and Driver sit in a automobile up to their necks,drifting backward through the darkness toward what could be the entrance to hell. They banter and flirt as if they're ridingthrough a tunnel of love, not the river Styx, then go breast-stroking off when they get bored.

The other odd missing value is cold. You stay in water that long, you get cold: You die of hypothermia or wrinkled fingertips orterminal mucus drip or the dreaded blue lip syndrome. Brr, I get chilly even thinking about it. Yet so coarsely engineered forsmart chitchat and meaningless pyrotechnics is "Hard Rain" that at no time during the lengthy passing of its 90-odd minutesdoes the first goose-pimple appear.

The movie's chief crime against the planet, other than the sheer wastage of time, is the trivializing of the great Freeman. Thisactor has such dignity and depth and humanity, he almost makes the film watchable, far more so than the hopelessly callowSlater, a walking gee-whiz with legs. Who can blame any man for taking the bucks, as Freeman has clearly done in this caseand as he's done in so many other recent negligible thrillers -- the horrible "Kiss the Girls" comes to mind. Still he gives themovie its only sense of gravitas and diminishes only himself by squandering months that can never be regained. No Americanactor could do more in the right part than this brilliant fellow, so it feels like sacrilege and waste when he settles for less. "Rain,""Rain," go away.    

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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