Some films use movie stars to serve a greater good. That is, ideally, the film’s star is the best person for the role. He or she could also be there to draw attention to a great film. Both are certainly good enough reasons to take on an above average salary in the acting department.
However, there are films that need movie stars just to exist. Studios know the film is average or poor in quality, but can earn money with an A-list celebrity attached. Without the star, they won’t pony up the money at all. There are countless examples, even if the stars themselves would never admit to serving such a purpose.
More important to note is that this doesn’t necessarily mean the film is dreadful. A poor film could be made average with the right star. An average film could be made good and so on. All this is to serve one simple fact: Christian Slater is never that actor.
I have no personal beef against the man. For all I know, he’s a wonderful human being with a kind heart. Unfortunately, many movie fans have come to learn he doesn’t belong front and center of a below-average action picture. He simply cannot keep the audience in rapture, or even contentment, for the duration of a feature film.
Luckily for those of us choosing to watch the 1998 heist thriller Hard Rain, Slater doesn’t have to shoulder the load all by his lonesome. A somewhat reluctant-looking Morgan Freeman takes top billing and appears in three-fourths of the film either alone or alongside his less enthralling costar. He also manages to pull off a paradoxical acting feat. If an actor can appear unenthusiastic while still portraying a man hell-bent on getting what he wants, Freeman does so in Hard Rain.
If that’s not enough for you to run out and pick up your copy today, let me fill you in a bit about the basic story. The saga opens with rain pouring down on a rural America. The land is flooded and an unnamed town is in the final stages of evacuation. Meanwhile, two armored truck drivers (Slater and Edward Asner) try to make their pick-ups before the storm overtakes the roadways. Little do they know the flood is the least of their worries. A professional yet ragtag-looking group of thieves (led by Freeman) are planning to steal the money in the truck that very day.
Chaos ensues. The heist goes awry. The water rises. The local police get involved. Yes, every twist in the tale can be seen two or three steps early. The characters never even step outside the labels bestowed on them by years of cliché-ridden action flicks. Slater is obviously the hero. Freeman is the well-intentioned thief. Randy Quaid, as the recently dismissed town sheriff, is the villain in waiting. Minnie Driver, the lone woman, is thus the automatic love interest.
Paramount obviously hoped this cast would carry the picture past mediocrity. It does not. Freeman doesn’t stray too far from his comfort zone, and the script doesn’t force him to, either. Early on in the movie, after a man is shot, Freeman’s character is outraged. He chastises his fellow henchman, but never loses sight of his overarching goal: getting the money. Later, he even gets to stray onto the “good guy” side of things. Unfortunately, there is no dimensionality to the character despite his duel sidedness.
The rest of the cast forfeits even that small luxury. They never stray outside their clichéd initial labels (hero, token girl, etc.). The film, for that matter, never really does, either. There are few surprises and zero development in any area past the premise.The illegal pursuit of money can make for an exciting hunt, but only when there are other enticing circumstances or individuals involved. Hard Rain provides neither. Everything here is as basic as it comes with minimal alteration to an overused formula.
Now that may not be a ringing endorsement, but if Paramount had followed even the basics for the disc’s special features it would have been an improvement. There is simply nothing there. A theatrical trailer in standard definition shouldn’t even qualify to be listed in the bonus features section on the back of the case. Though I imagine there are only a few fans of the film as is, the makers aren’t going to win over anyone with just the movie.
Why not even try to convince people there is more to this than meets the eye, or at least show the work that went into it? After all, Christian Slater doesn’t get many opportunities these days to promote himself, and this mundane blu-ray release certainly won’t help.