blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Black Rain (1989, Ridley Scott)

Black Rain features one of the worst action movie fight scenes. It’s unnecessary—they could’ve just worked around it since participants Michael Douglas and Matsuda Yûsaku are bad at it, the fight choreography is terrible, and it manages to be the most embarrassing thing director Scott oversees in the film and Black Rain’s chock full of laughable acting, worse writing, and lots of racism.

But that fight scene.


The film—which, two-thirds of the way through, I realized—was supposed to be a Beverly Hills Cop sequel. But instead of Eddie Murphy cracking wise as he and Judge Reinhold travel through Osaka—Osaka City Cop?—it’s Douglas and Andy Garcia. They went out for a totally normal New York cop lunch—Douglas had just gotten railroaded by the “suits” in Internal Affairs (remember when media tried to convince the world Internal Affairs was more than enough), so he and Garcia have a drinking lunch. Now, Douglas is a tough guy cop. Garcia is the dapper, charming one. Garcia’s a lot of fun in Black Rain. He’s the only one who thinks it might be able to lead to something.

I mean, I’m sure Douglas thought he had a future as “the thinking man’s Stallone,” but he very much did not, and Rain shows why. Douglas has one-liners at the end of every scene. And he’s a dirty cop. Black Rain is about how we should like dirty cops. They’re the real heroes if you think about it. The dirty cop stuff should be the wildest the movie gets—but the racism is where it’s at. Multiple times in Black Rain, the movie pauses for Douglas to try to think of something racist to say, but then the script can’t think of anything, so he stammers out something silly. Then the nearest Japanese character has to acknowledge what Douglas said, agree with it, apologize for it, and prostrate themselves so Douglas can get in the shitty one-liner.

The film’s script, from Craig Bolotin and Warren Lewis, is garbage. Not just because it’s bad, racist, and fascist but because it doesn’t have a story. See, at their drinking lunch, Douglas and Garcia see eighties manga caricature Matsuda kill some guys. So they give chase—they’re hero cops, after all; the entire movie is about how they’re running to the next action scene. It’s silly but also might work with Murphy and Reinhold. They catch Matsuda and have to take him back to Japan. The exchange goes wrong, and Douglas and Garcia stay to show the stupid Japanese cops how it’s done.

At its best, Black Rain’s a good-looking vanity cologne commercial for Douglas. Jan de Bont and Howard Atherton’s photography is peerless. Rain’s gorgeous, even when it’s trying to say the Japanese are super-polluted and not chill like New York City. It’s one heck of a flex given Rain is one of those “let’s shoot New York like L.A.,” so Douglas is motorcycling around the city, often chewing gum.

Douglas is terrible. I mean, his heart’s in some of it. He delivers the racism from the diaphragm, but he’s utterly charmless. Garcia’s okay. Fun, likable. Okay. Takakura Ken is their Japanese cop sidekick. After being the brunt of Douglas’s jokes, he eventually becomes part of the gang, after prostrating himself to white savior Douglas.

Kate Capshaw’s the “love interest.” It’s a nothing role; she’s there to translate for Douglas and get him takeout, but Capshaw’s working way harder than the part deserves. You see her run out of script and direction and just wing it to try to find some meat.

Lousy music from Hans Zimmer. The Gregg Allman original song is terrible, though I do wish it were subtitled Michael Douglas’s Theme.

Good production design from Norris Spencer, who basically makes Osaka look as much like Blade Runner as he can. It’s a bad, unpleasant movie–I forgot, John Spencer’s bad in it, which is enough reason it should be avoided; John Spencer FTW—but the photography’s singular. Maybe it’s better muted.

It’s definitely better muted.

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