Under its original name ("The Flood"), "Hard Rain" was scheduled to open in theaters during the summer. But the film's release was delayed until 1998 so the studio could avoid going toe-to-toe with 1997's summer slate of disaster thrillers, including "Dante's Peak" and "Volcano."

More's the pity, because this movie actually fits in quite nicely with the others as prime examples of good casts making bad films — or serving as a great lesson for a What Not To Do In Screenwriting 101 class.

Not to say that this soggy thriller is predictable, but anyone who's seen either the movie trailer or TV ads will be able to tell where this one's going within minutes — as well as predict all of the major "twists and turns" the movie makes. In fact, if audience members are paying attention, they should also be able to figure out what the characters are going to say before they say it.

What's particularly irksome about this dud is the presence of terrific character actor Morgan Freeman, who hasn't been in anything decent since 1995's "Outbreak" and anything great since 1994's "The Shawshank Redemption."

He plays Jim, a career thief trying to get his hands on $3 million being transported by two armored car couriers, Tom (Christian Slater) and his uncle Charlie (Ed Asner). And Jim seems to have picked the perfect time to pull off the robbery: While en route to another cash pickup, the armored car is washed off the road by floodwaters from a torrential rainstorm bombarding the Midwest.

However, there are a few hitches in Jim's plan. While holding up the two guards, one of his overzealous partners accidentally kills Charlie. Fearing for his life, Tom swipes the cash and heads off into the chest-deep waters with the crooks in hot pursuit.

On the run, Tom is more hindered than helped by Karen (Minnie Driver), a young woman who clobbers him when he tries to hide out in the church she's refurbishing. And the town's lame duck sheriff (Randy Quaid), already overburdened with trying to evacuate some cantankerous residents (Richard Dysart and Betty White, in odd supporting roles), has his loyalties tested when the young guard reveals where he's stashed the loot.

More ludicrous than the premise are some of the character "developments" that happen along the way. And while a few of the action sequences are spectacular, they look like choreographed stunts (not too surprising, given that director Mikael Solomon is a former cinematographer).

"Hard Rain" is rated R for violence, profanity, gore, some vulgar references and a scene featuring an attempted rape.