On a routine security truck delivery, Uncle Charlie (Ed Asner) is shot by a bogus rescue crew (led by cowboy-hatted Morgan Freeman) who turn out to be thieves seeking the van's $3 million cargo. Nephew Tom (Slater) heroically makes off with the cash, and this double-trouble, heist-meets-disaster flick is go.
If, as originally intended, it had been called The Flood, Hard Rain (rotten title) might have been unfavourably compared to Volcano, Daylight or Titanic. But it's not your standard catastrophe hokum, in that its hardy band of survivors are far from united in their battle against this particular elemental onslaught. The sheriff (Quaid), abetted by a good-deputy/bad-deputy team, locks Slater up, believing him to be a moist looter, and in no time, the water is lapping round his collar. Karen (the ubiquitous Driver) is our distressed damsel who, far from being the useless, decorative sniveller of 1970s disasters, saves Slater's ass more than once.
Like The Poseidon Adventure and Towering Inferno, the action takes place at night and almost in real time, but Hard Rain isn't about stuffed dinner suits in peril - rather, its ready-bedraggled protagonists are out to get each other; most of them have access to boats, and there is no clear leader. It's this infrastructural originality that sets the film apart from the New Disaster herd. A post-workout Slater does his best as action hero, but he doesn't quite have the face for it (too pinched and cross-looking), and the script's one attempt at a James Bond/John McClane wittisicm -"Low tide, sailor!" -sounds uneasy coming from his lips. This leaves the job of stealing the film to the lugubrious Freeman and a script-chewing Quaid.
Hard Rain is a dark, fractious film and a wet one, for the most part wrapped up warm in unsexy yellow oilskins, but cinematic adversity always was an ideal backdrop for emotion, and it's not long before romance, betrayal, redemption, revenge, confessional, comic relief and attempted rape make their entrance.
In this sense, it's a classic disaster movie, and many of its set pieces (a dramatic handcuffed-to-bannisters rescue, electric cables in the water) have Irwin Allen written all over them, but the surfeit of new-fangled gunplay once again gives it a contemporary edge.
Technically, the waterworks are on a par with Titanic (if a little less artistic) and when, climactically, the levee breaks and the town goes under, you can only feel for those actors, dreaming, like drowned rats, of a light romantic comedy. A rollicking cat-and-mouse thriller in bad weather. And no dog.