Picks and Pans Review: Black Rain

updated 10/09/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/09/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Michael Douglas, Ken Takakura

It takes a long time to get to the explanation of this film's title. When it comes, a Japanese gangster is talking about how he hates Americans because of the fallout after the A-bomb was dropped on Nagasaki or Hiroshima (he doesn't say which). The discussion fits in perfectly with the rest of the movie since it doesn't have much to do with anything and seems to have been crammed into the plot with a crowbar.

Said plot has Douglas as a mildly corrupt New York City cop who flaunts his machohood in an early scene by engaging in an insanely wild motorcycle race. Douglas witnesses a Japanese mob rub-out in a New York City restaurant and captures the poypitrayta. He gets to go Oriental when the murderer is extradited to Japan, escorted by Douglas and his partner, Andy (The Untouchables) Garcia, an actor who is becoming the all-purpose Gabby Hayes sidekick of his era.

The murderer escapes from Douglas and Garcia in Osaka, using a ruse that wouldn't fool a mildly alert school crossing guard, and the rest of the film is consumed with the Americans tracking the killer through one foolish scene after another, none of them interesting enough to make you forget how little sense they make. At one Japanese gangster summit meeting swarming with bodyguards and thugs of all descriptions, Douglas seems to turn invisible, skulking around for an hour, more or less in plain view, without any of the bad guys noticing him.

The script, by Craig Bolotin and Warren Lewis, sounds as if it were written by two men who had spent their entire lives locked in a room filled with bad comic books. When the Osaka police understandably tell Douglas to go home and leave them alone, he says, "This is my job. What do I look like—chopped liver?" When he runs into Kate (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) Capshaw, an Osaka floozy with a heart of gold and a brain of mush, he tells her, "Sometimes you gotta choose a side." Then, trying to get Takakura, as the Osaka cop who becomes his unofficial partner, to go outside the law, Douglas says, "Sometimes you gotta go for it."

Sometimes you gotta write lines a real person might say, too, but director Ridley Scott seems to have all but ignored the dialogue and plot in favor of architecture and mood. Like such earlier (and better) Scott films as Alien and Blade Runner, this film is obsessed with misty, murky, smoggy, dimly lit or just plain dark scenes. He also makes Osaka the most striking part of the film, using its fish market, its factories, its neon signs and its ultramodern subway system as fascinating backdrops.

None of the human parts of the film come off as well, even though Takakura, a major star in Japan, is often moving as a Japanese cop torn between his sense of duty and his respect for Douglas. If he had been given an extra-tall Hefty bag, he could have walked off with the picture. (R)

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