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Armored truck drivers Tom (Slater) and Uncle Charlie (Asner) are caught in an attempted robbery in one of the largest rain storms in history. The robbery goes wrong and Charlie is killed while Tom escapes with the money. Thus, Tom begins a game of cat-and-mouse with the robbers, led by Jim (Freeman), aided by church owner Karen.
Tom: I hid the money in the cemetery. Tied it to some crypt named "Portman".
Wayne: Why did you do that?
Tom: I don't really like to carry around that much cash, you know?
- As the Good Book Says...: Ray's tendency to quote Bible verses. Jim even asks him for "inspiration" at one point. It leads to a rather amusing line later:
Ray: We'd go down to the river, and into the river we'd dive. (The others give him confused looks.) Springsteen, "The River". What? I'm all out of Bible verses.
- Anti-Villain: Jim, Kenny, and Phil.
- Attempted Rape: Deputy Wayne tries to rape Karen after Sheriff Mike Collins makes it clear that there could be no witnesses.
- Alas, Poor Villain: Kenny and Phil.
- Battle in the Rain: Every single fight in this movie, obviously.
- Bear Trap: Tom and Karen nearly step into a pair of them.
- Big Dam Plot
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Hank seems like a nice guy, but after Mike decides to take the money, Hank joins him and takes glee and trying to hunt down Tom and Karen.
- Broken Pedestal: We find out much later in the movie that Charlie was involved in the original plot to take the money.
- Cavalry Betrayal: Ray is about to shoot Tom when he's struck down by a bullet. It's Mike, who promptly starts gunning for Jim and Mehlor.. However, he's doing it because he's taking the money instead, meaning he's also there to kill Tom.
- Chekhov's Gun: Four. The propane tank, the mounted cavalry statue, Karen's Swiss Army Knife, and an actual gun, in Sheriff Mike Collins‘s ankle holster. There's also one from before the movie started: When Mike is insisting that Hank come help him, he reminds Hank that he had to officially deputize Hank one time, so "When I say come down here and help, I'm not asking—I'm ordering you!"
- Died in Your Arms Tonight: After being electrocuted, Kenny is being held and watched over by his father figure, Jim. Jim tells Kenny he'll be all right; Kenny even says the pain is starting to go away, and then...
- Drowning Pit: Tom in his jail cell, Karen in her house.
- Enemy Mine: Tom and Jim end up working together temporarily when Mike, Wayne, Hank, and Phil wants to steal the money and Kill'Em All.
- Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The mayor uses Mike’s name one time at the start of the movie. The rest of the time, everyone else just refers to him as "Sheriff".
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: After the studio logo, the rain starts falling. From that point on, it doesn't stop, all the way to the black screen of the end credits.
- Extreme Doormat: Mike. At the beginning of the movie, he's helping direct the evacuation of the town, which is totally normal for law enforcement. Then we find out Mike lost the election and once the emergency is over, he's out of a job. The mayor even calls him out on it, wondering why he's sticking around to help after what happened. Wayne suggests getting revenge on the mayor and blaming it on looters; Mike declines and continues to help with the evacuation, then continues to stay and do his job long after almost everyone is gone.
- Eye Scream: Mr. Mehlor. We hear the shot, see his glasses break, and hear his agonized scream as blood jets from his eye socket. Then, just to drive the point home, the movie shows his broken glasses sinking and settling atop a headstone.
- Face Heel Turn: Mike. While wanting the money might be understandable due to his circumstances, it's what he'll have to do to get it that makes him a real Heel. The original gang of robbers didn't want to go that far; they explicitly told the truck guards, "We just want the money! You guys walk away, we won't kill you!"
- Floating Head Syndrome: Some of the later posters and the DVD box art. It's a shame, too; the original poster was at least kind of interesting.
- Giant Wall of Watery Doom: Occurs when the dam finally crumbles under the stress.
- The Good, the Bad, and The Evil: Respectively, Tom, Jim and Mike.
- Harmless Electrocution: Subverted. Kenny gets very badly hurt from his electrocution, and though it does seem at first like he's going to survive it, he later dies.
- Human Shield: Jim uses Tom as one. It doesn't work, since Mike has decided to keep the money, which means he needs both of them dead, anyway.
- Inner-City School: Briefly, when Mr. Mehlor's homemade bombs are introduced.
Ray: You teach your students how to make stuff like that?
Mehlor: Have you been to high school lately, Ray? My students taught me how to make stuff like this.
- Insignia Rip Off Ritual: Mike. While it's not done in front of his superiors, the "Screw this, I'm not working here anymore" mentality is still quite obviously there.
- Jerkass: Wayne and Mr. Mehlor.
- Logo Joke: The familiar Paramount logo of a mountain is seen. Then the sky over the mountain clouds up and the rain starts falling.
- Mentor Occupational Hazard: Charlie, to Tom. Although it was an accident.
- Minion with an F In Evil: Phil, again. The only reason he's with the bad guys is that he couldn't bring himself to shoot one of them. Not a really useful trait in a cop, so Phil also doesn't make a particularly effective good guy either. His apparent tendency to choke when he should be shooting somebody is also the end of him.
- Motive Rant: Mike gives one to Phil about his Face Heel Turn.
Phil: You’ve been protecting us for 20 years!
Mike: 20 years I’ve been eating nothing but shit for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Well, I’m changing the menu to something shit free. Can I make it any clearer? Should I paint you a picture?!?
- Only in It For the Money: Morgan Freeman's character, Jim, says this almost word-for-word several times in the film. Even in the end, when Tom thinks Jim helped save his life:
Jim: You just don't get it, do you? (He grabs the money bags and puts them in his boat.)
- Parental Substitute: Jim promised Kenny's father he'd look after Kenny. Of course, Jim didn't do such a great job of it.
- Spanner in the Works: Tom (and later Mike) to Jim's plans.
- Red Alert: The dam has one, complete with flashing red lights and extremely loud warning buzzer. Of course, by the time it happens in the movie, it's too late for anyone to do anything about it...
- Rescue Romance: Karen and Tom.
- Too Dumb to Live: Tom and Karen climb out of the water when they see the rising flood is about to touch a power line. They quickly realize they climbed on a metal scaffold, and find a better ledge. Kenny, one of the criminals, also climbs out—but doesn't realize the scaffold is metal until it's too late.
- Villainous Breakdown: Jim's original plan to snatch the cash from the armored car without having to kill anyone was simple. However, Tom has caused him so much trouble that Jim finally decides he's fed up:
Jim (pointing a gun at Tom): Before you start jerking me around again, consider this: I've had a very frustrating night. While I may not find that money if I kill you, I'm at the point now where I just...don't...care.
- Wham! Line: "Okay."
- With Us or Against Us: The sheriff gives Phil one. To be fair, it's not really a False Dichotomy in this instance, as Phil is a cop, and if he doesn't try to arrest or kill the bad guys, he's an accomplice.