October 11, 2016

Daylight (1996)

Former Emergency Medical Services chief Kit Latura (Sylvester Stallone), who resigned under a cloud after the death of several people, is dragged back into service when New York's Holland Tunnel collapses - trapping several survivors inside. After managing to get inside via a ventilation shaft, Kit leads the survivors in a race to escape before the entire tunnel floods with water.

It's actually rather funny noting just how similar the set-ups between Cliffhanger and Daylight are: both about everyday heroes played by Sylvester Stallone, both retired after a miscalculation lost innocent people their lives, and both forced to confront those mistakes in the process of saving the day the second time around. Both films were also, funnily enough, shot in Italy as a cost-saving measure. Beyond that, however, the two films split directions towards separate cliches. For Cliffhanger it was to Die Hard, and for Daylight it is to The Towering Inferno.

This is the most generic kind of disaster film: take a landmark (a New York tunnel), fill it with a disposable cast of mixed ages and ethnicities, drop in an A-list star to rescue them, and then simply take out the survivors one by one in a series of accidents and ceiling collapses. Daylight doesn't particularly do anything wrong, but it really is about as generic as movies come.

That is not to say there is no entertainment value in Daylight. For one thing the film boasts some quite impressive special effects that really do emphasise the huge amount of danger the trapped passengers and motorists are in. There are fires everywhere. The tunnel is unstable and could collapse. When section collapse water from the Hudson River comes gushing in. There are even live electrical cables scattered about the place. Given the lengthy list of potential hazards between the accident and escape, there is plenty for the film to sustain itself for most of its running time.

I write 'most'; truth be told, Daylight does weirdly run out of steam during its final act as one challenge too many impacts the survivors and I found my attention beginning to wander. This is, all things considered, a 110-minute action thriller than really needs to be about 100 minutes long instead. There are only so many times a group of people can be put in peril, and squirm their way out of it, and to Daylight's detriment it showcases one peril too many.

Much of the film's running time is sustained not by the plot but by the actors. They are all playing very broadly drawn characters, but they do so in pretty appealing ways. Sylvester Stallone is rock-solid as Kit, which is no surprise really. Amy Brenneman is a strong co-lead as heartbroken playwright Maddy Thompson, and to the film's credit it doesn't aggressively force its leads into a romance - although it does hint at one in their future. Viggo Mortensen has a great supporting role as the arrogant celebrity daredevil Roy Nord. Other performers, including Jay O. Sanders, Stan Shaw and Claire Bloom all give good performances, giving their thinly-drawn characters just enough life to paper over how simplistic they actually are.

Daylight is ultimately a throwaway kind of a movie, one that does its job well enough to not be completely awful but never manages to do anything distinctive enough to be memorable. In that respect it's actually a less enjoyable film than Cliffhanger, despite technically being better made. At least when a film is bad it can be a certain kind of fun. Daylight just kind of sits there.

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