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Good Cast, Effects Can’t Keep ‘Rain’ Afloat

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As a depiction of a small Midwestern city undergoing a major flood during a furious rainstorm, “Hard Rain” is as convincing as James Cameron’s sinking of the Titanic. This documentary-like realism, alas, only underlines the preposterousness of its plot with its torrent of contrived, credibility-defying cliffhangers.

A lighter touch, a sense of not taking itself too seriously, could have helped, but this Paramount release is basically a standard action-adventure. Directed with more vigor and efficiency than inspiration by Mikael Salomon, it relies heavily on the sheer presence of its first-rate cast, whose roles tend to be short on characterization.

The film opens spectacularly with a dramatic aerial shot swooping down on to a classic 19th century Main Street, where at its key intersection the local sheriff (Randy Quaid) is directing the final stages of the evacuation of the city.

Meanwhile, armored truck drivers Christian Slater and Edward Asner are emptying the vault at the local bank of its cash deposits as part of an assignment to clear out a series of banks adjacent to a river on the verge of overflowing. On the way out of town, Asner loses control of the truck amid rising water and makes a signal for help that’s picked up by ex-con Morgan Freeman, who is only too eager to grab the truck’s holdings, which add up to $3 million plus.

From this point on, writer Graham Yost piles on plot complications as fast as the water rises, and what emerges is the notion that almost everyone can be tempted by greed. We don’t know whether this applies to Slater till the finish; only Minnie Driver’s stained-glass restorer seems pretty immune to temptation.

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It’s no stretch for Freeman to play a likable good-bad guy, but he seems too intelligent to have credibly assembled such inept partners in crime. The same goes for Slater, as an average Joe, or Quaid a disgruntled law enforcement officer. Similarly, little is asked of Driver, such a standout in “Good Will Hunting,” beyond being tart-tongued and spunky.

There’s some comic relief from Betty White as an amusing obtuse nagging wife and Richard Dysart as her long-suffering husband. Asner, the film’s strongest presence, exits early.

“Hard Rain’s” logistics really are impressive--it’s as if we’re watching the inundation of Grand Forks, N.D., all over again. However, the underwater sequences are too similar to those in “Titanic” for this film as a whole not to suffer in comparison. The absolutely convincing staging of the flood may just be enough for the least demanding of action fans.

* MPAA rating: R, for violence. Times guidelines: The film’s convincing depiction of a major flood may be too intense for the very young.

‘Hard Rain’

Morgan Freeman: Jim

Christian Slater: Tom

Randy Quaid: Sheriff

Minnie Driver: Karen

A Paramount presentation in association with the Mutual Film Company. Director Mikael Salomon. Producers Mark Gordon, Gary Levinsohn, Ian Bryce. Co-producer Christian Slater. Executive producer Allison Lyon Segan. Screenplay by Graham Yost. Cinematographer Peter Menzies. Editor Paul Hirsch. Costumes Kathleen Detoro. Music Christopher Young. Production designer J. Michael Riva. Set decorator Ron Reiss. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes.

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* In general release throughout Southern California.


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