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‘Black Rain’

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 22, 1989


Ridley Scott
Michael Douglas;
Andy Garcia;
Ken Takakura;
Kate Capshaw
Under 17 restricted

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Director Ridley Scott was never one to spare the gory details, and his Osaka-set "Black Rain" is no exception. He approaches this prickly action thriller with the gusto of a sushi chef in a fish storm. Unfortunately and typically, he loses sight of his story in this artistic barrage of blood and guts. It's a gorgeous, erratic movie most definitely not for those with an aversion to cutlery.

"Black Rain," basically a buddy-cop story, fairly bristles with pointed objects -- and Scott lets you know early on that he aims to do some chopping and skewering. The very first chase finds Michael Douglas, the truculent hero, up to his armpits in cow carcasses and meat hooks. (A Sly hommage?) His nemesis, a Japanese gangster who just slit a few throats over lunch, is armed and ready to slice. The butchers all run for it.

The story rough-and-tumbles to Osaka when Douglas, as Nick, a street-smart cop, and Andy Garcia, as his dapper partner, Charlie, collar the killer and are ordered to turn him over to the Japanese police. Not since "Diva" has there been such a viciously hip villain as Sato, a renegade mobster cleverly portrayed as a smirking adolescent by Yusaku Matsuda. When Sato escapes, as he must for the story to continue, a third cop joins the melee.

Ken Takakura, a leading Japanese film star, is a welcome addition as the unfortunate Masahiro, the sensible desk cop who plays Danny Glover to the others' Mel Gibsons. And a dandy trio they make too, giving us the tiniest hope that the writers, Craig Bolotin and Warren Lewis, have come up with a samurai "Three Musketeers." Alas, no. This is buddy cop, by the book. Soon Masahiro and Nick-san are off on their own, bonding in an unmarked Mitsubishi. And the writers dare to tweak the Japanese for their traditionalism?

Indeed, the buddy-cop gambit serves as a metaphor for the hard sledding inherent in East-West relationships. Good old rugged American individualism slams against the group loyalty of Japanese society here in scenes of sumo subtlety. "All America is good for anymore is movies and music," says Osaka's police chief. Nick rejoins, "You are so tight, if one of you ever had an idea of your own you couldn't {bleepity bleepity bleep}."

Naturally Nick teaches these sticklers that John Wayne lives. And naturally he learns something from the unassuming Masahiro in return. Under investigation by Internal Affairs back in New York, the slightly crooked Nick wins back the honor he had lost somewhere on the mean streets. There's a lovely reconciliation scene that finds the two detectives slurping supper in a blue-collar noodle bar. "If you steal, you disgrace, Charlie, yourself and me," says Masahiro.

Later Nick gives tit for tat, offering Masahiro a bit of sports-shoe wisdom: "Sometimes you just have to go for it."

Douglas, who instigated the project, isn't altogether convincing as the pigheaded hero. Actually Garcia packs the biggest wallop as a gun-toting dreamboat, a good-humored Al Pacino who smooths over Nick's faux pas and interprets American cop talk for the Japanese.

The overinvolved mystery concerns a rift between rival factions of the underworld. Kate Capshaw, smashing as a hard-edged geisha from Chicago, lets Nick in on the secret war. "Who knows about this besides you and me?" he demands. "About 11 million people," she responds. Too bad we couldn't get to know this tough cookie a little better.

"Black Rain" is chock-full of moments, jazzy scenery and snazzy bits of dialogue, and stuffed with steroids. It's big, maybe too big for its shallow notions and commonplace structure. But it is also beautiful and terrible in the same ways that other Scott movies have been eye-filling. With its teeming Asian landscape, its dark kaleidoscopic palette and its heavily layered composition, it's reminiscent of "Blade Runner." But this is an atmosphere that needs Sam Spade, not Dirty Harry.

The pace falters as the story sloughs toward the inevitable duke-off, just desserts after a 10-course meal. "Black Rain" is your basic yin meets yang with a Ginsu knife -- much violence, more philosophy and a few too many dismemberments for my taste.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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