Black Rain (1989) / Thriller-Action
MPAA Rated: R for violence and language
Running Time: 125 min.
Cast: Michael Douglas, Andy Garcia, Ken Takakura, Kate Capshaw, Yusako Matsuda, Shigeru Koyama, John Spencer, Luis Guzman
Director: Ridley Scott
Screenplay: Craig Bolotin, Warren Lewis
Review published January 26, 2007
Michael Douglas (Romancing the Stone, The Star Chamber) stars as macho NYC detective Nick Conklin, under investigation from Internal Affairs for possibly covering up theft done by his fellow officers in the line of duty. While enjoying a drink with his partner Charlie (Garcia, The Untouchables) at a local establishment, they are witness to an assassination of a Japanese gangster by several Yakuza, headed by the main assassin, Sato (Matsuda, The Family Game), who is taken into custody by Conklin. As it is his bust, and perhaps to get away from the heat of the investigation, Conklin insists that he and Charlie be the ones to escort Sato back to his home country of Japan. However, once there, they are victims of a ruse by Sato's men, who pose as Japanese police, and he escapes. Though in another country, Sato technically still is Conklin's prisoner, so he is allowed to stay in the country to assist in Sato's apprehension, except without firearms and with a Japanese cop at his side, Masahiro (Takakura, Mr. Baseball). Together, they uncover the Japanese underworld about to explode, thanks to Sato's attempts to get a piece of the pie for himself through the acquisition of plates to counterfeit his own money.
Black Rain is a fairly routine cop thriller with yet another tough, maverick cop at its center, defying authority and butting heads with some ruthless gangsters, mostly to sate his thirst for exacting revenge. Though it is formulaic to a large extent, the film does benefit from the Japanese setting, which allows for some commentary on the clash of cultures between the United States and Japan, especially in the perceptions between the people after the fallout of WWII (the title refers to the experience of "black rain" which fell on the survivors in the aftermath of the bombs dropped in 1945).
While Black Rain is relatively engaging fodder for action movie fans, particularly ones that enjoy the staple of a square-jawed cop who takes no crap from anyone, these days, it is perhaps more of interest to movie buffs because it is a Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Alien) film. The usual Scott staples are here: stylized camerawork, steam rising from the streets, smoke-filled rooms, claustrophobic streets, trench coats, sleek cinematography, neon lights, and a cool aloofness; it's easy to be taken in by the aesthetic qualities, even when the emotional element is left lacking. While certainly not one of his best films, it still was a bit of a comeback after the less-than-spectacular returns of Legend and Someone to Watch Over Me, though the immense popularity of his follow-up, Thelma and Louise would make such a comeback claim irrelevant for this film.
Good, charismatic performances by Douglas and Garcia entertain in between the action (in traditional "buddy cop" style). Their reactions to the strange customs and environs of Japan (strange from an American point of view, anyway) do make for some amusing moments (Garcia gets Mas to loosen up with a rendition of Ray Charles' "What'd I Say?"), as well as unsettling (honor is a main component in Japanese life, which the uncouth Americans continuously disgrace). Ken Takakura also delivers very well in his role as the reluctant third wheel who is sickened by Conklin's utter lack of commitment and duty to his profession.
It's not all successful, however. Superfluous characters and subplots abound, most notably in Kate Capshaw's (Dreamscape, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) nightclub owner character of Joyce, who, one can only presume, is featured in order to lend a bit of eye candy and a potential happy ending to the routine story. Conklin's troubles with his ex-wife and her squeezing him for alimony is mostly needless to show, as we establish many times that he is under a great deal of financial pressure, which is what may have caused him to be on the take while in service to the city. The film also has its share of lulls, especially during the action scenes, with the finale in particular drawing things out far too excessively. Perhaps 20 minutes could have been trimmed from its overall 125 minute length to tighten things up and deliver with more of an impact.
Black Rain remains a sumptuously-filmed, well-executed action film that never quite keeps the pulse levels raised enough to be an exemplary example of the popular 1980s genre. Fans of the leads, Ridley Scott, and just cop flicks in general will most likely find it a worthwhile excursion, but the cliches, clunky plotting, and sheer excess do make you think that it could have been better if it had a sharper script and tighter editing. Slick but vacuous, Black Rain dazzles the eye, and the characterizations are often entertaining. Unfortunately, it lacks the real distinction in its genre that you'd expect from Ridley Scott.
©2007 Vince Leo