Daylight (1996)

December 5, 1996

Much has been ballyhooed around about the connections between Sly Stallone’s latest vehicle Daylight and disaster films of the past. The China Syndrome, The Poseidon Adventure, even the hokum filled Airport series all laid claim to big stars, big budgets, empty thrills, and, most crucially: camp. Daylight does have camp to burn, humanity in peril, and even a few vacant thrills, but what it lacks is character — or, barring that, something for the audience to toss raspberries at.

Daylight arrives with an interesting premise that quickly becomes trite. An explosion in the Manhattan tunnel (caused by some “grungies” crashing into a convoy of chemical-laden trucks) kills hundreds of hapless motorists, strands a dozen survivors within its collapsed frame, and prompts a transit official to proclaim, “We’ve got a live one here!” Well, duh. Enter their savior, Sylvester’s dreadfully named Kit Latura. He’s a dishonored ex-chief of Emergency Medical Services turned New York taxi driver: “Yo, Adrian! Are you talkin’ to me?”

As the water level starts rising, the noname supporting cast start to grumble like there’s no tomorrow. Any self respecting hero here would snap around and snarl, “Shaddap!”, but unfortunately that never occurs. Instead we’re left with director Rob (Dragonheart) Cohen’s divine miracle: he changes water into whine. What Daylight needs is a little more heroic bravura and a little less gutless sniveling. Furthermore, Stallone lacks the charisma and populist red neck magnetism needed to make us believe he could lead a group of panicked victims out of the crippled tunnel. With his dachshund eyes and his mouth-full-of-marbles delivery, it seems unlike that he could lead even a pack of tourists out of the Museum of Man and Nature.

Characterizations in this genre have always been of the cardboard cutout variety, and Daylight is no exception. The opening character introduction sequences are so patently ridiculous that it mars the rest of the proceedings. It’s as if Cohen loaded up a cannon with the characters’ photos and shot it out of the screen, leaving the audience to pick up the pieces. What you end up with is a shard of back history, a shred of personality, and that all-important “How did they get in the tunnel?” If we could care about these people, perhaps the film would have been more enjoyable. Instead, the survivors we’re left with are like shadows — as far as we’re concerned, they’re already dead; they just don’t know it yet.

To its credit, Daylight is chock full of special effects eye candy, which Cohen handles well. Still, it’s not effects or the gut reaction a film provokes that determines its worth. Sadly though, this seems to be what many audiences consider in their box office decisions — “Let’s throw acting and plot aside: Does it excite?” (ahem: Jurassic Park). Even on this basic level, Daylight fails. It feels more like a commercial for the new Universal Studios theme park ride than a film, and this in itself may be its biggest flaw.

ISSN 1499-7894
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