The small town of Huntingburg is being flooded. The sheriff (Randy Quaid) is evacuating the citizenry, even though he lost the recent election. He and his deputies, however, will be staying to protect the town from looters, as the sheriff feels doing his job well is the best revenge.
Also anticipating looters are the local banks. An armored car, guarded by Tom (Christian Slater) and Charlie (Ed Asner), is emptying the vaults of banks up and down the river.
That truck is the target of a group of thieves (led by Morgan Freeman), who are using the torrential rains to their unexpected advantage. However, the heist doesn't go exactly as planned: Tom escapes and manages to hide the money.
Soon, the band of theives is after Tom to find the hidden money, and the police don't know whether to trust Tom or lock him away as a potential looter.
There is a good setup in Hard Rain, with the three sides (the thieves, the cops, and the hero), each having its own idiosyncracies. The ragtag group of robbers is the most interesting, containing not only Freeman but an ex-science teacher (Dan Florek), a trigger-happy bible-quoting thug, and a nervous neophyte.
However, after this setup, the characterization goes nowhere. Morgan Freeman simply plays the part of "Morgan Freeman as a kindly but desperate thief", and we're never given any hows or whys for his character. The same goes for all the other characters as well, who offer no real surprises (especially if you've seen the spoiler-filled trailer). Christian Slater and fellow flood victim Minnie Driver are paired off, but there's no more depth to their relationship than to their characters.
While we're on the subject of screenwriting, the dialogue isn't particularly deep, either. There are times that it's servicable for fueling the bare minimums of an action picture, but others (particularly the comic relief) are purely atrocious. One entire subplot, involving an elderly civilian couple (Betty White and Richard Dysart) severely needed to be axed.
But all that said, the movie does work, on its own terms. This is nothing that's going to win an Academy Award, but for thrills and excitement, it will deliver bang for your (matinee) dollar. A flood might not be in the same class as volcanoes, twisters and earthquakes, but after seeing this film you sure don't want to be in one.
The best advice is to watch this film without questioning too many of the details. (Such as...with all the shotgun blasts going on, why doesn't anyone's boat get holed?) But if you sit back and simply enjoy the mindless peril, you'll have a good time.
[R - violence] (Paramount)