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Guilty Pleasures: Black Rain

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When? 1989

What's it rated? R

Where's it available? DVD, Streaming on Netflix

No one is perfect. That adage is true of everyone, even groundbreaking Hollywood directors. Sometimes, no matter how much money and talent you bring to a film, things just don't work out, and these creative titans of cinema are left with a costly white elephant they'd rather forget about.

Nowhere is this more apparent than the big-budget 1989 cop drama Black Rain. The movie was directed by Ridley Scott, and thus was blessed with a big budget, an ambitious production, and a (at the time) star-studded cast that included Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia. While they sound like all the right ingredients for yet another Scott hit, what we ended up getting was a film that never quite lived up to its potential.

RIDLEY'S FLOP 1989's Black Rain isn't one of legendary director Ridley Scott's best films, but it's still worth a viewing for its stunning visuals. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SCOTT FREE PRODUCTIONS
  • Photo Courtesy Of Scott Free Productions
  • RIDLEY'S FLOP 1989's Black Rain isn't one of legendary director Ridley Scott's best films, but it's still worth a viewing for its stunning visuals.

Black Rain tells the story of Nick Conklin (Douglas), a bad-boy New York detective who doesn't play by the rules and isn't averse to defying his superiors if it means bringing the bad guys to justice (see every other cop in any 1980s action movie). The film begins with Conklin arresting a Japanese Yakuza gangster for murder. Soon, Conklin and his partner, Charlie Vincent (Garcia) are tasked with escorting their suspect back to Japan as part of an extradition agreement. As soon as they arrive, the Yakuza gangster escapes. Conklin is forced to work with a straightlaced Japanese detective named Masahiro Matsumoto (Ken Takakura). In the end both men overcome their differences and bring the Yakuza gangster to justice while also bringing down an international currency counterfeiting operation.

For all the story's potential, the film just doesn't come together the way it should. Douglas' performance in particular seems wooden and anemic. He was 45 when he filmed the movie, and it is apparent while watching that his age is beginning to catch up with him. He looks gassed in the fight scenes and action sequences, and downright silly in what is supposed to an edge-of-your-seat motorcycle chase. He seems to take the whole "bad cop" persona to an almost outlandish extreme. The plot itself, while interesting, is nearly forgettable.

Still, even a total stinker of a movie is still worth one watch when the stinker was directed by someone like Scott. While the story is boring, the movie is visually stunning. The bulk of it takes place in the dark, neon-drenched streets of Japan, much of it giving off the same techno-noir vibe as Scott's futuristic masterpiece Blade Runner. Scott allegedly had such a hard time shooting in Japan that he swore he'd never film there again, and had to shoot the movie's final scenes in Napa Valley. Still, the effort paid off, as the movie's visuals are its single redeeming quality.

Even though it is not very good, Black Rain is still worth a watch. Directors like Scott will always be remembered for their best work (Blade Runner, Alien, etc.), but their flops and misses can also tell us more about who they are as artists. Usually, when a great director flops, it's because they are trying to do something ambitious, interesting, or new, and just can't quite make it work. Movies like Black Rain are little windows inside the minds of these great directors, who like the rest of us, are still human and make mistakes. (125 min.) Δ

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