Hard Rain

1997 may have come and gone, but Hollywood is still putting out the trash from last year. Last year, the disaster genre was revived (and immediately killed) by such entries as “Volcano,” “Dante’s Peak,” “Turbulence,” and “Speed 2: Cruise Control.” Mountains gurgled, planes crashed, and ocean liners became floating death traps.

With the exception of “Titanic,” which perfectly combined human drama and disaster spectacle, filmmakers failed to capture the formula that made films like “The Poseidon Adventure” and “The Towering Inferno” such fun. Hoping to distance themselves from the crowd, two big-budget disaster films, originally scheduled for release last year, make their debut this month. The films, “Firestorm” and “Hard Rain,” are so similar and familiar, you don’t even have to see them to feel like you have. The similarities between the two films is uncanny.

They both feature good-looking leads, disposable femme-fatales, charismatic villains, and former cinematographer’s serving as directors. Then there’s the coincidence factor. “Hard Rain” stars Christian Slater, hoping to cash in on his action star status after “Broken Arrow.” “Firestorm” stars Howie Long, hoping to cash in one his action star status after, uh, “Broken Arrow.”

Both films feature a rag-tag group of bad guys using a natural disaster to cover up their devious plot. “Hard Rain” uses a major down pour and a crumbling dam as a backdrop. “Firestorm” uses an out-of-control forest fire as a backdrop. “Hard Rain” features bad guys who pretend to be good guys. Ditto for “Firestorm.” Both films use women as devices to advance the feeble plot. Both films feature incredible stunt work to obscure the feeble plot.

In “Firestorm,” Howie Long plays a smoke jumper whose efforts to stop a blazing forest fire are thwarted by escaped convicts. It’s the same plot as Irwin Allen’s made-for-television disaster film, “Fire!”

“Hard Rain” finds armored car driver Christian Slater fending off the bad guys (including Morgan Freeman) who want the $3 million he’s hauling. Complications include rescuing the prop women in distress (Suzy Amis is the hostage Long must rescue, Minnie Driver the church restorer who saves Slater from drowning), and saying silly dialogue with a straight face.

Both “Hard Rain” and “Firestorm” look terrific, and that’s because both directors used to be cinematographers. “Firestorm” director Dean Semler won an Oscar for his work on “Dances with Wolves.” Mikael Solomon’s work includes “The Abyss.” Each film is visually exciting. Unfortunately, both films come too late in the game to make a difference or a dent.

“Firestorm” and “Hard Rain” (formerly “The Flood”) were due last summer, where they might have generated some interest. After the release of “Titanic,” both films seem small and insignificant. They should be big hits on video, because no one will see them in theaters.



Howie Long, Scott Glenn, William Forsythe, Suzy Amis in a film directed by Dean Semler. Rated R. 103 Min.


Christian Slater, Morgan Freeman, Randy Quaid, Minnie Driver, Ed Asner, Betty White in a film directed by Mikael Solomon. Rated R. 96 Min.


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