by Jack Sommersby
Oh, it's got a lot of beautiful photography and impressive shooting locations, but it's empty and unremarkable.It's too bad director Ridley Scott and star Michael Douglas are only marking time, and wasting ours, with the unremarkable crime picture Black Rain. Why they chose to partake in such a cliche-ridden cinematic exercise is anyone's guess; surely both had better screenplays landing on their desks, especially Douglas in that this is his first starring role after winning the Academy Award for best actor for his galvanizing performance in Wall Street two years prior. Here, playing veteran New York City detective Nick Conklin, he gets to display his typical solidity, but there's nothing to distinguish this tough-cop character from any of the few dozen we've come across on the silver screen for the last dozen years. As the movie opens, Nick hangs out with some fellow motorcycle-riding buddies on his day off and indulges in a race with one of them; already, we know we're in store for another such race further on down the line, otherwise the scene wouldn't be here. Conklin's a much-decorated officer but is under investigation by Internal Affairs for allegedly stealing money from a drug dealer during a bust; he claims he's "clean" but his financial obligations (two kids in private school, alimony, child support, rent on a big apartment) are a thousand dollars a month above his salary. He's having lunch with his ambitious partner Charlie (Andy Garcia) at an Italian restaurant when three Japanese men take out guns and order everyone not to move; the leader of the group, Sato, has some words with some expensively-suited Japanese yakuza at a table, takes a small box off one of them, and then viciously stabs two of them. (In a public place with so many witnesses?) While making their escape, Nick and Charlie pursue them, and Nick manages to apprehend Sato. But rather than being charged in American court (unlikely), Sato is to be flown back to Japan to stand trial, with Nick and Charlie accompanying him on the flight. Implausibly, Sato's men, disguised as police officers, manage to outwit Nick and Charlie at the airport and escape with Sato. Because there was no official prisoner transfer, Nick refuses to go back home and is determined to bring Sato in. This, of course, pits him against the strictly-by-procedure Japanese officers, and thrusts him into a foreign land where he has no frame of reference. Yep, it's another of those culture-shock, fish-out-of-water tales; and the script by Craig Bolotin and Warren Lewis, heavy on contrivances and ultra-light on originality, adds nothing fresh to the equation.
"A Scott/Douglas Incidental"
Scott, of course, proved himself an irrefutable visual master with the sci-fi classics Alien and Blade Runner, and he certainly hasn't lost his touch. Working with the invaluable cinematographer Jan De Bont he gives the Japan exteriors plenty of high-sheen style; but as was also the case in his last effort, the dreadful Someone to Watch Over Me, the excessively showy visual design can't camouflage the humdrum content. Nick is assigned a humorless senior officer, Masahiro (Ken Takakura); and being that three is always a crowd as far as the cop-buddy thing goes, Charlie's inevitable doom is easily foreseen. Nick isn't above beating up a suspect and going it alone if need be, while Masahiro tries to instill in Nick the team-player mentality; in turn, Nick teaches his counterpart to take risks, and Masahiro preaches "honor" to the corrupt Nick. (And, yes, there's the inevitable scene where Nick learns to use chopsticks.) Again, what lured Scott/Douglas to these endless familiarities that they pander to rather than try to transcend? Action sequences are competently done, and some of the dialogue is above par for the course ("I think you better melt a little cheese on that scotch, he's going to be drinking his lunch"), but every time the movie starts finding its rhythm we get a tired stock element that impedes it. There's the tough-talking American nightclub manager in the form of the beautiful Kate Capshaw, who's around so Nick can have a non-Japanese ally supplying him with pertinent information (and also to lock lips with at the end), along with the Mr. Big crime boss at odds with Sato who berates Nick for the Hiroshima bombing that "made the rain black." One doesn't have to be snobbish to be put off by all this stunning obviousness, especially when so much time and money went into it, and the running time at over the two-hour mark didn't draw the tedium out all the more. We get not one grand finale, but two: one with two warring gangs shooting it out in ludicrous The Wild Bunch-style at a out-in-the-country mansion, and the other with Nick and Sato doing the 'ol Evel Knievel on two conveniently planted motorcycles. To be fair, the fearless, charismatic Yusaku Matsuda forcefully portrays the dastardly Sato, and Douglas and Takakura play off each other well when they're given a rare genuine scene together. But Black Rain takes seriously stuff the dandy 1982 John Frankenheimer-directed, also-Japan-set The Challenge found inventive corners to and poked fun at while still serving up excitement and enjoyable action. That's the movie to see, not this well-cast but tired, expensively produced trifle.The DVD boasts impressive video and audio, and the special features are plentiful -- even if the movie's not recommendable, Scott's commentaries always are.
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originally posted: 06/06/12 19:47:08