Directed by: Rob Cohen
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Amy Brennerman, Viggo Mortensen, Dan Hedaya, Jay O. Sanders, Karen Young, Vanessa Bell Calloway
I’d be lying if I said I was a fan of director Rob Cohen. There are certainly less talented people out there, but films like xXx, The Fast and the Furious or The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor don’t really do it for me. However, when Rob ventured into classic disaster movie territory in 1996, the result was actually quite entertaining. Clichéd, clumsily written, packed with annoying characters and in parts pretty ridiculous – but entertaining.
Daylight wastes little time in getting things going. Barely have the opening credits rolled past before we’re witnessing a shady deal to transport toxic waste through New York’s Holland tunnel. When a trio of crazed robbers steal a briefcase full of diamonds and head for the tunnel in their equally stolen getaway car, we know it’s not going to end well. And whaddaya know – within minutes they have managed to crash their car into one of the trucks carrying the toxic waste, causing a series of massive explosions that bring down the tunnel entrance. It’s a great opening for a disaster flick; big and good looking and well executed, with huge fireballs, cars being crushed by falling concrete and unfortunate motorists being fried to a crisp.
Enter Kit Latura (Stallone), a taxi driver who has witnessed the collapse of the tunnel, and who just happens to be a former chief of the NYC Emergency Medical Services. While the people in charge of the rescue efforts are initally reluctant, Kit convinces them to let him go inside to try and reach the survivors.
The only way in is through the big fans that supply the tunnel with air, and this passage seems to have been designed and built by the NYC Department of Ridiculous Death Traps. The system can be shut down – but only once, and the fans will power back up again after 45 seconds. So, Kit has to crawl through four spinning fans. Luckily, he always knows how much time he has before each fan powers up, since whoever designed the system appears to have foreseen this improbable scenario and had a display installed next to each fan, counting down the seconds. Even as you watch this very enjoyable sequence, you can’t help but ponder the inevitable question: Why mount those displays in a place no one was ever supposed to enter?
Once inside the tunnel, Kit encounters the small group of people who against all odds managed to survive the inferno. The survivors are the classic mix of disaster movie stereotypes: a quarreling couple and their teenage daughter, an elderly couple who lost their son and got a dog instead, a bunch of juvenile delinquents, a dashing adventurer-millionaire, a reasonably attractive young woman who is also an aspiring playwright, and a tunnel guard. At the opening of the movie, the guard says to his date that he’s got something to tell her when they meet up later that night. Thus we know he’s not going to make it out.
The dashing adventurer-millionaire (Viggo Mortensen) happens to have some mountaineering equipment lying around in his SUV, and decides to try to climb out through the so-called mid-river passage. The passage is dangerously unstable, and Kit tries to stop him, but to no avail. ”I can’t fail”, says Viggo, and immediately gets crushed as the passage collapses on cue.
For the rest of the movie Kit tries one more or less improvised plan after another to protect the survivors, but everything seems to fail. After he blows up part of the tunnel to shield the group from the toxic fire, the place starts flooding as river water starts pouring in. When he leads the group into a long-abandoned service area to escape the flooding, the water soon rushes in there, too, along with an army of rats. When they finally reach an old, wooden staircase leading towards the surface, Kit has to go back to save that darn dog, whereupon the staircase collapses, leaving Kit and the playwright splashing around in a waterfilled cavern with no way to get up and out. But this isn’t the kind of film where the hero bites it, so in a final display of highly suspect action film physics, Kit manages to create a ”blow out” that sucks the pair of them up through the riverbed and leaves them bobbing about in the Hudson with a picturesque view of the World Trade Center in the background.
If you don’t mind some clumsy/cheesy dialogue and the fact that half of the survivors are such annoying whiners that you kind of wish they hadn’t made it at all, Daylight is a fun film. It moves along nicely and I gotta hand it to director Cohen that he handles the action sequences well. Some of them are even pretty suspenseful, despite the outcome being totally predictable.
Part of it is thanks to Stallone, who is a likeable though somewhat blunt actor. He does a decent job here, but the Kit Latura character lands him a bit awkwardly between traditional action hero, which suits him just fine, and attempts at something more sensitive that doesn’t come quite as natural. The sensitive part gets its fullest expression in Sly looking incredibly sad a lot of the time. I mean really puppy-eyes super-sad.
Viggo Mortensen as millionaire adventurer gets to mouth a handful of obvious catchphrase attempts before he gets squashed, so he never really has a chance to display the talents we know he has. However, Stan Shaw as tunnel guard George turns in a fine performance and is the only one who stands out besides Stallone. The rest of the cast are saddled with cardboard characters who whine, bitch and freak out so much it’s hard to warm to any of them.
A well-made and pretty good-looking film, Daylight delivers what it’s supposed to – a 90’s take on the classic disaster movie formula. I like it.