Throughout his career, Michael Douglas has served as a barometer for America's dominant moods and fears. In 1989, the threat of Japan's vigorous economy was cause enough to make Paramount dispatch Douglas to Tokyo to improve our flagging self-esteem. Black Rain offers a zeitgeist-friendly depiction of Japan as a scary, inscrutable menace with a populace divided between risk-averse salarymen and glowering, murderous sociopaths.
Ridley Scott's sleek thriller casts Douglas as a swaggering, motorcycle-riding dirty cop hired to transport a Japanese gang member back to his home country. When Douglas and sharp-dressed partner/comic relief Andy Garcia accidentally release their dangerous charge back to his own gang, Douglas vows to track him down. Garcia's cold-blooded murder at the hands of the same gang then pushes Douglas' renegade cop from on-the-edge to over-the-edge. In a sign that the film diligently plays by the rules even though its hero doesn't, Douglas' tormented cop hooks up with a by-the-book Japanese cop (Ken Takakura) for some late-'80s ethnically mismatched buddy-cop action.
Scott's best films (Blade Runner, Black Hawk Down, Alien) are an effortless fusion of style and substance, but here, as in Hannibal, he's saddled with material that barely rises to the level of risible pulp. Black Rain is puffed full of so much macho posturing, mindless aggression, and witless profanity that it risks a fatal case of testosterone poisoning. The film's hypnotic orgies of neon, shafts of light, moody shadows, and ubiquitous clouds of steam offer a nonstop feast for the eyes, while the laughable script invites the mind to indulge in a two-hour-long catnap.
Key features: A Scott commentary joins a slew of making-of documentaries that take the film from casting and scripting through shooting and post-production.