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Hard Rain

movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Hard Rain

Starring: Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater
Director: Mikael Salomon
Rated: R
RunTime: 96 Minutes
Release Date: January 1998
Genres: Action, Thriller

*Also starring: Randy Quaid, Minnie Driver, Ed Asner, Richard Dysart, Betty White, Mark Rolston, Peter Murnik, Dann Florek

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Edward Johnson-Ott review follows movie reviewvideo review
2.  Harvey Karten read the review ---
3.  MrBrown read the review movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
4.  Steve Rhodes read the review movie review

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
1½ stars out of 4

It would be easy to dismiss the entertaining, but decidedly lightweight action film "Hard Rain" as mere fluff, were it not for the memories of last summer's dreadful "Speed 2: Cruise Control." That leaden monstrosity served as a primer on how to screw up an action movie. Bloated and dull, "Speed 2" was two hours of forced spectacle and frantic movement that generated little tension and virtually no fun. Conversely, "Hard Rain" takes a simple concept and turns it into an unassuming, efficient action film. Sure, you'll probably forget about it an hour or so after you've left the theater, but at least you'll have a good time while you're in there.

Set in Huntingburg, Indiana, "Hard Rain" is about an armored car heist and a whole lot of water. After flood waters force the evacuation of the small town, the local sheriff (Randy Quaid) and his deputies patrol by boat, searching for any local stragglers and keeping an eye out for looters. Meanwhile, an armored car breaks down on the outskirts of town, stranding drivers Tom (Christian Slater) and his Uncle Charlie (Ed Asner. ) A radio call for help results in the arrival of Jim (Morgan Freeman) and his crew, but their goal isn't assistance. They want the armored car's treasure, $3 million in cash. When the "rescue team" opens fire, Tom snatches the money and takes off on foot into the ever-deepening waters. The chase is on, with everyone pursuing Tom. Shifting allegiances and some snazzy action sequences keep the proceedings lively, as the flood waters continue rising higher and higher.

Water is notoriously hard to handle, so the creators of "Hard Rain" moved the production into a contained environment, building an extremely detailed replica of Huntingburg in a massive aircraft hangar in Palmdale, California. 50 wooden buildings were set in a tank two football fields long and one football field wide. Behind the faux downtown setting, the largest backdrop ever made, 72-feet high and 2,000 feet long, completed the Huntingburg re-creation. Then the whole set was flooded with five feet of water, deep enough for the actors to flail about convincingly, but shallow enough to allow them to find their footing when necessary. To simulate the rising floodwaters, the filming was divided into several stages. At the end of each sequence, all of the structures were lifted into the air, allowing crew members to cut away the bottom portions of the buildings. When the sets were lowered, the illusion of rising waters was complete. Ultimately, flood waters 16 feet deep were simulated for the production.

After finishing 75 days of shooting on the Palmdale set, the crew finally moved to the real Huntingburg, for a week of outdoor location filming. For the first time in Indiana history, a highway was closed to traffic for filming, as sandbags were placed at the junction of Interstate 231 and Main Street, which was then covered with a few inches of water to simulate the early stages of the flood.

"Hard Rain" was originally called "The Flood" and was scheduled for release last summer, but the film was pulled from the schedule and the name changed due to fears it would be mistaken as a disaster movie. In press materials, producer Mark Gordon stressed the difference between "Hard Rain" and a disaster film. "In those type of stories, the twister, flood or volcano serves as the antagonist. In our picture, Morgan Freeman is the antagonist, Christian Slater is the protagonist and we play out the action against the flood."

The action gets pretty spectacular, highlighted by two particularly nice set pieces; a jet ski chase through the flooded halls of a school, and a nifty dual speedboat crash through the stained-glass windows of a church. The acting isn't bad, either. Christian Slater mercifully avoids his chronic Jack Nicholson impersonation, underplaying Tom in straightforward heroic fashion. Morgan Freeman is grimly effective as the very focused leader of the bad guys, and Randy Quaid puts his snarky qualities to good use as the town's morally ambiguous sheriff. Minnie Driver, excellent in "Good Will Hunting," has a minor, but pleasing turn as a restoration expert who reluctantly gets drawn into the action, and Betty White makes an amusing cameo appearance as a feisty local who refuses to vacate her home.

Despite the qualifications of the cast, don't look for any deep personal insights. Like its storyline, the characters in "Hard Rain" are streamlined; archetypal players making fast decisions in a volatile situation. "Hard Rain" is simply an action movie, but it has a certain elegance because of its lack of bombast or pretension. They're just trying to show us a good time here and, bless their little hearts, that's exactly what they do.

Copyright 1998 Edward Johnson-Ott

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