January 23, 1998 at 05:00 AM EST

Some disasters are just naturally photogenic, and the movies that exploit them for apocalyptic jollies boast titles that can command a marquee: Earthquake, Twister, Volcano. The eye-popping grandeur of certain other disasters isn’t quite so obvious. Take, for instance, Hard Rain (Paramount). The movie was originally called The Flood, until some brilliant marketing executive realized that floods, while monstrously destructive, aren’t actually all that scary. Then there’s Firestorm (Twentieth Century Fox), which some viewers may find a profoundly confused, if not oxymoronic, title (wouldn’t a fire and a storm sort of cancel each other out?). On the emotional Richter scale of terror and awe, these disaster flicks of January would have to lie somewhere between the aforementioned blockbusters and such misbegotten epics as Mudslide, Really Heavy Snowfall, and the classic Clogged Bathtub Drain.

Hard Rain investigates what happens when a small town is flooded by a torrential downpour, leaving no one to negotiate the deluge but a testy sheriff (Randy Quaid), a church restorer (Minnie Driver) who looks great in a soaked blouse, and an armored-car guard (Christian Slater) who is trying to hide $3 million from a wily robber (Morgan Freeman). Apparently, even in such extreme circumstances, characters will still insist on yelling bad B-movie dialogue like ”I know where he’s going! What I’d like to know is where he came from!” Hard Rain suggests Titanic in a giant wading pool. The flood rises, the night grows murky, and it becomes clear that the more water there is on screen, the less room there is for anything of interest to happen. Even if the movie weren’t drenched in chase-thriller cliches, who wants to watch actors spend an entire film with rain dripping down their faces? After a while, you have no investment in what they’re saying. You just want to hand them a towel.

In reviewing Firestorm, the forest-in-flames thriller starring Howie Long, Variety predicted that the film might drum up some business due to ”the lack of similar product in the marketplace.” In one respect, they got it right. Having scanned the marketplace, I can attest that Firestorm is the only abysmal potboiler out there to feature a lunkish former NFL star as a parachuting firefighter who clomps through smoky woods chasing bad guys who are also clomping through said woods. By the end, I was reduced to wondering, What would happen if you poured Hard Rain over Firestorm? Surely, a very big fizzle. Hard Rain: C- Firestorm: D- — OG


Hard Rain STARRING Christian Slater Morgan Freeman RATED R 93 MINUTES

Firestorm STARRING Howie Long Scott Glenn RATED R 88 MINUTES

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