There was always a slow and warming glee when I was a kid and the spring rains would come and water would fill the water table and seep into the creeks that became rumbling, grumbling rivers and then slow-rising flat plains of silty drench that took over the farmer's fields then advanced on the country roads and state highways and soon cut off the route to school. The opening shot of "Hard Rain" partakes of that same perverse glee, a four-minute computer-enhanced procession of cloud, lightning, storm and flood advancing on a small Indiana town.
As written by Graham Yost, late of "Speed" and "Broken Arrow," and directed by Mikael Salomon (cinematographer of "The Abyss" and director of the fine, underappreciated "A Far Off Place"), "Hard Rain" fails to live up to the thrills and chills of that shot once the plot kicks in. In tiny Huntingburg, Indiana, a cash-laden armored car serving banks about to literally go under and manned by Christian Slater and Ed Asner is targeted for robbery by a gang led by Morgan Freeman. Amid the waterlogged setpieces, we get the gruff sheriff, Randy Quaid, ripe and funny, as well as smart-girl romantic interest Minnie Driver, sorely underused. "Hard Rain" is enjoyable in the same way as "Earthquake" and "Volcano": We sit through the wryly worded, no-nonsense kind of nonsense, waiting for the earth to open up and swallow the cast.
Slater, credited as co-producer, built a rapport with the producers on "Broken Arrow," and they worked with the wisecracking 28-year-old to develop an action vehicle for him. But more immediate action follows "Hard Rain"'s Los Angeles premiere, after which Slater must turn himself in for a stretch in jail. Last August, Slater, who told police he had been "drinking for days" and was on cocaine and heroin, got into a fight at a party, punched his girlfriend in the face, bit the host in the stomach and wrestled cops until an officer put him in a chokehold and he passed out. (Slater says he did most of his own stunts in "Hard Rain" as well.) Slater took the opening of his new movie as a chance to practice public-relations rehab, and the often-sulky, always-drawling actor was cheerful on the subject of his problems.
After a couple of inconsequential wisecracks, Slater dives into the deep end. "Let me have the first question! What's it like to be in the trouble you're in?" He smirks the smirk familiar since the days of "Heathers." "Well, it's certainly been an eye-opening experience. It's kind of amazing I've gotten the chance to do this press and take responsibility for my actions. Y'know, just accepting the consequences and not playing a victim. I've been in this business for twenty years. You look at the whole idea of movie stardom and you tend to think that's going to be the answer to everything, that it's going to fill the void that I've had inside of me. Just to share that with you!" When Slater was arrested in 1994 at New York's JFK airport with an unloaded handgun, it seemed even then that he was leaning on celebrity to excuse capricious behavior. "I think I've been hiding for years, trying to live up to a certain image you're supposed to live up to," he says, sliding in and out of second person. "I'm just relieved to be able to say, yes, I am a human being. A lot of people project a certain image when they see me, even before they get to know me. The truth of the matter is that the guy behind the screen is a human being. And I am only now just beginning to know that about myself. I've lost interest in what other people think about me. I'm only really concerned about what I'm thinking about me." Slater segues neatly with a hike of the eyebrows: "Now I've got this crazy movie, this wet and wild adventure to talk about. Working with a guy like Morgan Freeman! Here we are working on this film where there's 30,000 gallons of water pouring down on your head and he never loses his cool. He lets the water literally roll off his back. He set the tone and became our guru on the entire film."
You ever lose your cool? "We had to keep our sense of humor. Everyone had their Gene Kelly imitations down. I was squishy quite a bit on this movie."
There's an uncomfortable scene in "Hard Rain" where Slater is locked in a jail cell while the flood waters rise and rise and it looks as if his character might drown. Is it easy to watch that scene now? "I'll tell you a little therapy story," he says, spinning a parable with a big smile. "I'm sitting in this one therapy session. It was a lady therapist, and I'm sharing with her all the problems and trials and tribulations of success! And all that stuff, the pressures of it. She puts her head back and she says, 'You have been through a lot, a lot of pressure, you've been doing this a long time. You started out with the Partridge Family...' and I said, 'What? Who do you think you're talking to here?'" Slater guffaws. "The woman thought I was Danny Bonaduce! You really can't put a lot of faith in the whole [fame] thing. "
A year ago, Robert Downey Jr. said he was on the straight-and-narrow, which gives most people reasons to doubt celebrity sincerity. "Yeah, well, one of the things that I would obsess on was what other people think about you, and that'll drive you nuts, let me tell you. That'll keep you awake at nights. My main concern is really what I'm thinking about myself. At the end of the day, when I get into bed and close my eyes and my career goes away and my house goes away and all the things I've been obsessing on, what I'm left with is what's behind my eyelids. I have a particular beast inside of me I've had to deal with, absolutely. We all like to point the finger and obsess on all of the stuff on the outside instead of what's going on with us. I'm very lucky. I tested the envelope there a little bit. I've been testing the envelope for a while, and God, I'm just tired of it. I've been given an opportunity to remove myself from all the insanity and not obsess about what everyone's saying about me. Just give myself an opportunity to do some soul-searching, to y'know, heal myself."