In his Oscar-winning role in Wall Street, Michael Douglas was a scumbag trader who dirtied his soul but kept his hands clean. Now, as the grungy NYPD detective Nick Conklin, Douglas — in a galvanizing performance — dives right in the muck. Conklin is a rude, rule-breaking hothead. Disillusion is about to send him over the top. His wife’s left him, his department suspects him of taking bribes, and his new assignment, baby-sitting a Japanese hood named Sato (Yusaku Matsuda) on a flight from New York to Osaka, has just been royally botched. Sato has eluded Conklin and his partner, Charlie Vincent, wittily acted by Andy Garcia. Now Conklin must recapture his prisoner on alien turf.
It’s a fish-out-of-water yarn. Another one. Originality is not this thriller’s strong suit. Style is. Black Rain is exotic, energized entertainment with director Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner) nosing his camera into Osaka’s dark, unfamiliar corners. Scott knows how to juice the throttle of a fight scene and how to give the actors — even Kate Capshaw as an irrelevant love interest — space to shine. But what raises the film above the herd is the way Scott lets the traditions of a foreign land work changes on Conklin. At first Conklin is contemptuous of Masahiro Matsumoto (Ken Takakura), the Japanese detective assigned to watchdog him. To Conklin, Matsumoto is a suit — a slave to ritual and an outdated code of honor. The casting of Takakura, Japan’s Clint Eastwood, is an inspired stroke. His transformation from desk jockey to warrior opens Conklin’s eyes. It’s risky making an action picture that breaks its violent stride to emphasize the difficulties of living up to preconceived ideas of masculinity. But it’s that risk that makes Black Rain distinctive. By refusing to beat its Eastern and Western protagonists into comic-book pulp, the movie pays them, and the audience, a rare compliment.