Sunday, 17 April 2016

Hard Rain

Title: Hard Rain
Director:  Mikael Salomon
Released: 1998
Starring:  Christian Slater, Morgan Freeman, Randy Quaid, Minnie Driver, Edward Asner, Michael Goorjian, Dann Florek, Ricky Harris, Mark Rolston, Peter Murnik, Wayne Duvall, Richard Dysart, Betty White

Plot: Armoured truck driver Tom (Slater) and his uncle Charlie (Asner) have been tasked with collecting the money from the banks set to be affected by flooding as the small town of Huntingburg, Indiana finds itself being hit by a rainstorm. Things take a turn from the worst when Tom finds himself on the run from a gang of armed robbers lead by the charismatic Jim (Freeman) who plan to use the storm as a cover for their heist on the truck.

Review:  Originally intended to be directed by John Woo who left the project in favour of directing “Face Off” instead and leaving the door open for Cinematographer turned director Mikael Salomon to take control of the project in what to date has only been his second feature film, having for the best part of his career preferring to direct TV or Timelife event movies. Still with the writer / producer pairing of Graham Yost and Mark Gordon who’d be responsible for the monster hit “Speed” with the hope being that they could capture the same magic here, especially with the pair having not returned for its ill-fated sequel “Speed 2: Cruise Control” and something which really didn’t happen financially for this film as it ended up being one of the most expensive flops of the year, only later making its budget back when it was released on VHS.

For one reason of another though this film has been largely forgotten it would seem, which is actually something of a shame as it’s arguably one of the more original heist thrillers as its combined with disaster movie elements as Christian Slater’s Tom has to try and escape his pursuers through an increasingly flooded town which interestingly had also at one point been a proposed setting for a sequel to “Deep Blue Sea” which as of yet is sadly yet to happen.

Moving with almost rocket pacing we are barely into the film before Tom is on the run with the $3 million which Jim and his men are keen to capture, chasing after him on jetski’s which is just one of the numerous nice visual touches scattered throughout the film, while the unique setting keeps it from getting predictable.  Slater here though is really working his usual Jack Nicholson reminiscent charms with an action hero edge similar to what we got  in “Broken Arrow”. Morgan Freeman meanwhile gets a rare chance to play the villain of the piece, with those smooth southern tones really working for him here as Jim isn’t the kind of guy whose quick to anger preferring to methodically work his way through his situation even when Tom continually finds ways out outsmart or out manoeuvre his men who you would think have the advantage here.

When it comes to Jim’s gang they really are a mixed bunch of assorted character types as we have the bible passage quoting Ray (Harris), the token idiot Kenny (Goorjian) and ore randomly the high school teacher Mr Mehlor (Florek) who’s also an explosives expert! Frustratingly it’s never explained what brought these characters together outside of the allure of a big payday the heist promises to provide. The is also a great drinking game to be had based around taking a shot every time the name Kenny is said….trust me it really stacks up.

While this game of cat and mouse is unfolding we also have the few residents of the town which include Sheriff Collig played here surprisingly straight and without any of his usual craziness by Randy Quaid and who despite recently being dropped as the town Sheriff is still trying to stay loyal to his duties as he attempts to evacuate the last few residents with his two deputies. Its during these scenes we not only get to the see the films perhaps unneeded love interest Karen (Driver) who is currently in town restoring the church but most amusing are Henry and Doreen Sears who are determined to wait out the storm in town and generally help provide the film with random comedy moments whenever it threatens to level out. Betty White in particular is fantastic as Doreen as she threatens Tom with a shotgun and puts out bear traps for possible looters. Richard Dysart meanwhile completes the double act and makes for the perfect straight man.  

Somehow managing to juggle the film between being a thriller and a disaster movie Salomon really makes the most his unique setting, with some great action set pieces such as a jetski chase through the hallways of the now flooded school or the heated suprise shootout which marks the start of a major third act twist which essentially changes everything which has been built up till that point as characters motives and standing are changed in an instant but not to the point where it seems unplausable.  We also get a great set piece in the town’s dam collapsing and unleashing a wave of destruction upon the town which while perhaps smaller in scale than some of the more recent CGI assisted waves we have seen in recent years here still looks impressive and helps to ramp up the thrills and stopping the film from settling into a lull.

Watching this film now it’s still unclear why it’s now been all but forgotten by most people and certainly it’s only the more confusing when you consider that we’ve yet to see anything like it since. Yes it’s not the deepest of films but as a fun and action packed thriller this is still a lot of fun with some great twist ensuring that you’ll be hooked to the end.

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