Expect little of this $60 million disaster-cum-heist movie (formerly The Flood), and you might just enjoy it. While it’s not the greatest or even the most exhilarating action thriller to hit British screens during the last six months, Hard Rain is nothing if not inventive. The sequence in which Freeman’s clumsy henchmen chase a soggy Slater through the water-filled corridors of a school (on jet-skis), is an outstanding, imaginative set-piece. But it’s really the only heart-squeezing excitement you can wring out of a film which amounts to little more than a clichéd sack of big-budget daftness, desperately trying to pretend it’s not a disaster movie.
To its credit, the disaster part – the impressive flooding of the town – only serves as a backdrop against which the robbery and the hour-long pursuit of Slater (then friendly and comely church restorer Minnie Driver) is played out.
So instead of car chases, Hard Rain gives you boat chases; instead of characters trapped by volcanic lava, it intimidates its ensemble cast with swelling water and a cataclysmic tidal wave. On the other hand, this also makes the scope of the movie fairly limited, because every potential nerve-jangler is an H2O-based moment – Christian Slater stuck in a flooding police cell, Minnie Driver handcuffed to a stairway in a flooding house, a shootout in a flooded... well, you get the general idea.
Whether you see Hard Rain as heist thriller or disaster fable, it’s hard to take seriously. Morgan Freeman, who begins the film as a cool, calculating, charismatic villain, never has the guts to kill Christian Slater’s reluctant hero. Minnie Driver’s main function is to look good when wet, while the trio of small-town cops, led by menacing Randy Quaid, are stereotypical and two-dimensional. Comic relief is provided by an elderly couple (Richard A Dysart and Betty White), who argue a lot and cross paths with the heroes between the sporadic bouts of shooting, pursuing, electrocuting and dam-bursting.
Hard Rain toys with the idea of being interesting, but wastes the opportunity. It becomes a movie which is, at best, infrequently average, characterised by cheesy dialogue and a general lack of common sense: it’s a by-the-numbers action thriller that offers nothing new or memorable, despite being set in the dark and in the water. In fact, when the credits have eventually rolled – after 85 long minutes have crawled through the projector – you realise that beneath the stunts and the racing soundtrack, nothing much has actually happened.
Slater’s action-man heroics and Minnie Driver’s angular cuteness are just enough to propel the flimsy plot towards its implausible John Woo-style finale. But by then you’ll be past caring. Part disaster movie and part botched robbery thriller, Hard Rain belly-flops uneasily between the two.