On last summer's action movie slate there was a picture called "The Flood," about a armored car heist gone wrong in a town submerged by heavy rains.
But when every rotten, assembly line disaster flick released last year bombed (remember "Dante's Peak" and "Volcano"?), "The Flood" was pulled so as not to be found guilty by association.
Retooled and retitled "Hard Rain," the movie opens this week. Problem is, it's still a rotten, assembly line flick.
Opening with a fantastic aerial tracking shot of furiously deluging spillways on a dam upstream from water-logged farms, the introduction is powerful and effective in creating a sense of looming disaster. The scene was shot with miniatures, but you'd never know if you hadn't read it in the press kit.
But after the first, say, four minutes, "Hard Rain" is on a slippery, muddy slope and going downhill fast.
After introducing Tom and Charlie (Christian Slater and Ed Asner), armored transport guards clearing cash out sandbagged banks in preparation for the town's evacuation, the movie quickly strands them in a flooded intersection where they are robbed by Morgan Freeman and a gaggle of generic, disposable lackeys.
Charlie is shot and heroic, honest Tom takes off to hide the money and call the sheriff.
Why he would risk his life for someone else's cash and $8 an hour isn't clear, but what the heck -- after the recent series of inside job armored car heists, the industry could use some good publicity.
However, following a quick and clever jet-ski chase through the waist-deep halls of the local high school, "Hard Rain" settles into a familiar pattern of stock action sequences dressed up in water-themed twists.
You got your jumping vehicles smashing trough windows (boats replace cars, the windows are stained glass in a church). You got your shoot-outs between marksmen that couldn't hit the broad side of a barn (not only do they miss each other, but they can't even spring a leak in the other guys' rowboats).
Then there's the really tiresome stuff, like the trapped-in-a-jail-cell-with-the-keys-just-out-of-reach scene, which comes when Tom is mistaken for a looter and locked up by the town's shifty sheriff (Randy Quaid). He is, of course, subsequently left alone in his cell when the water starts to rise.
The flooding effects are great, and the movie does treat us to some twists regarding who are really the bad guys when the money is found and seems up for grabs.
But short of it being kind of fun to watch Morgan Freeman play a baddie, "Hard Rain" doesn't offer much to hold our interest that doesn't involve water rushing at the camera. It's one of those movies in which the audience starts cataloging discrepancies out of boredom.
What kind of idiot architect would design a jail that can be broken into by removing a roof-accessible light fixture with a Swiss Army knife? This is how Tom is rescued from drowning.
If the light fixtures are accessible from the roof, why don't they leak in this downpour? Where do movie character buy these magic six-shooters that can fire 55 times without reloading?
Tom's escape is at the hands of the obligatory action movie female, played here by Minnie Driver ("Good Will Hunting") -- who has now ruined a pretty good track record of funny intelligent films -- and the two of them spend the last half of the movie swimming away from the robbers and all but drowning half a dozen times.
The movie's silly shoot-outs and uncreative stunts are often coupled with cheap religious allusions in an attempt to add some ambiguous underlying significance. But the overriding problem with "Hard Rain" that the continuity questions arise even when the movie isn't boring.
Why would an armored car guard go to all this trouble to prevent a robbery? Why wouldn't the bad guys walk away from a heist that is this much trouble? Why would the sheriff decide to let the dam burst and wipe out the town, even if he has gone rotten?
What's more, the movie is nearly over before we find out how the bad guys even knew about the armored car in the first place. It seems like they've planned this caper for months, but they couldn't have predicted the storm, which is the catalyst for the whole scheme.