Ah, the late 1990s. A boon time for relatively decent 90 minute made for TV disaster movies. Flood: A River’s Rampage could essentially be renamed ‘Sandbags – The Movie’. Not only does it fail to provide much in the way of a flood, but the vast majority of the film also takes place around said sandbags too. It is a very light way to enjoy a disaster movie but don’t expect too much from any department.
The disasters faced
A flood, the sandbags, botched engineering and flood estimates, rats, an electricity pole and a grandpa who is equal parts creepy as he is sacrificial.
Flood: A River’s Rampage takes place in a small town on the banks of the Mississippi. Heavy rain means that levees have been failing upstream and the small town currently hasn’t bothered to build a damn thing. Local farmer Herb has tried to reason with the mayor but no one cares so he has built his own to protect himself and his daughters Beth and Allie. The large visual age gap between the daughters is questionable to the point that the film has to keep pointing out Allie isn’t Beth’s daughter! Beth is about to be proposed to by Bobby but he wants to move into the city but she doesn’t want to leave her hometown behind. Oh, the scandal.
Enter Pat and Sam – not a children’s TV duo but the heroic duo! Pat used to date Herb and you know they’ll be snogging by the end of the movie but in the meantime, she is busy rallying the townspeople. Build a levee now nor evacuate as your town is lost.
The movie then splits into two areas. The main story follows the battle of sandbags as the town work together to build the levee in record time, Pat leads the effort by shouting a lot into her walkie talkie to her boss Harry who thinks she won’t be able to do it. The other story follows Beth and Allie. They go to bring Grandpa Jacob to safety but in true Grandpa fashion – he won’t leave. By the time its too late, an inconsistent flood attacks the home and the trio scamper to the roof for safety. Herb, Bobby and Sam (complete with a helicopter) go on a rescue mission. Will it all be for nothing though if the levee doesn’t hold long enough to save the town?
Why is it worth watching?
Everything about this movie screams Sunday afternoon TV. Family and characters come before setpieces, action and drama. That wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t know exactly who was going to do what well in advance. The characters seem almost parallel to another movie that came out in 1998 – Dantes Peak. Swap the flood for a volcano and a massive budget and you have a near-identical story arc. We’ve even got the stupid old person who doesn’t want to leave. Seriously, what does Hollywood have against old people in disaster movies like this?!
So whilst the film is competently put together on its budget, cringeworthy dialogue and vast range of acting abilities – I found myself enjoying the film for its mildly creepy vibe. Jan Rubes gives a bizarrely sinister as Grandpa Jacob. I know he was Czech but he sounds like he is trying to be German or Austrian and so each line sounds awkward and creepy. Even the two daughters he is with look genuinely perplexed by it all.
That being said, one of the films plot points did make me think. Pat states that only part of the town can be saved if any at all. A lot of the townspeople will lose their homes but others will be fine. It sparks an interesting town hall debate which is one of the best bits of the movie. It made me think how in 2020, at the time of this review, how people in different parts of the world and backgrounds might act now. Is humanity more selfish now or more generous?
Thankfully, Flood: A River’s Rampage came just at the turn of miniatures to CGI. The film uses both sparingly. The CGI looks like someone played with chroma key for a few days but the miniature pieces look much better. The sandbags being overhauled with water give some good shots and the film also has relentless rain throughout which must have taken up a lot of the budget too. Elsewhere real flood footage is used as characters watch on. It’s definitely a wet movie!
One of the reasons why I roll my eyes through this movie is because of the characters. Herb seems like a genuinely nice guy and Richard Thomas plays him well. He is clearly still recovering from the passing of his wife four years earlier and so early in the movie he is more tentative. Of course, old flame Pat with all her shouting sorts that out so they can be lovers by the end credits. Similarly, Beth and Bobby spend the entire movie meaning to talk about their issue so it never feels real. The mayor is an idiot, the Sheriff is just there and Pat’s boss Harry spends all movie making threats he never follows through on. Most of the cast are exposition and it put me off getting to like them.
Then there is Grandpa Jacob. Allie, the youngest daughter, looks genuinely scared when he sings at her. No wonder she wanted to fall off the roof – probably to escape him. Child actors are difficult to judge but Allie seems really wooden. Kristen Bone has gone onto a decent voiceover career for cartoons since so maybe its direction more than anything else.
‘I don’t need to see the river, I hear it’
Grandpa Jacob (of course)
Three memorable moments
- Grandpa Jacob’s singing will haunt me for days
- Seeing Allie slide off the roof and look really angry as she falls into the river
- Pat saying ‘Blow It!’ super dramatically one octave lower than any other line of hers throughout the movie
The obligatory weird moment
I could fill this up with Grandpa Jacob but I just had to include his house and the flood around it. Whilst characters suddenly get scared at lightning for no reason, the floodwaters seem to be building up all around the house. Yet at no point does anyone ever look out the window to see what is going on. I was literally screaming at the TV. It was all so unnecessary but then I guess the movie wouldn’t have happened. A close second is a poor match of Herb’s house being washed away. The house is white and that’s about it.
The drinking game
‘I need every man you’ve got!’. Pat says this or a similar line about every five minutes. You’ll need a flood of alcohol of your own to cope and keep up.
I find Flood: A River’s Rampage more of a strange comedy than a proper disaster movie – mainly because its a mishmash of characters borrowed from other films and then placed in a low budget, lopsided drama. It is perfectly harmless though and whilst far from the best flood based movie out there, you could do much worse with your time. It is just a Sunday afternoon drama by the numbers nothing less but certainly nothing more.
Rating: 2.5 / 5 OK
If you liked Flood: A River’s Rampage then you may like…
- The Impossible – still the best Tsunami/Flood style movie made to date
- Flood! – Irwin Allen’s made for TV camp fest is much more entertaining
- Flood – The Day the Dam Broke – If you like this gentle style, this is more of the same