Thanks to the rapidly expanding technology filmmakers were finding in their tool box, the 90’s saw an explosion of disaster movies the likes of which cinema hadn’t seen since the heyday of Irwin Allen when similar groups of character actors had their ranks devastated by randomly horrible acts of god. Twisters, Asteroids, volcanos, floods, a bloody great lizard; the 90’s had it all, but not every film managed to pull of that heady balance of escapist fun and massive national tragedy that a good disaster movie needs to grip an audience.
Proving that theory in spades was Rob Cohen’s 1996 Stallone starring tunnel flooder, Daylight; a movie unfortunate enough to come out while the renewed popularity of the genre – and that of its star – were on the wane.
Join me now was we wade through the rapidly rising waters of a movie all but forgotten by pop culture in general…
A group of trucks carrying barrels of explosive toxic waste come a cropper in the middle of the tunnel that lays beneath the Hudson river when they’re struck by a car being driven by whacked out diamond thieves – 90’s logic, gotta love it. The resulting conflagration incinerates all human life caught in the blast who doesn’t gave some sort of intriguing back story that might come in handy or who isn’t Sage Stallone and the resulting structural damage traps the survivors underground. On the scene is the unlikely named Kit Latura, a disgraced former Chief of Emergecy Medical Services who now drives a cab, who leaps back into action after witnessing a fireball erupt from the entrance like severe gastric distress caused by a love of hot sauce. Cautioned that he could be arrested for merely helping people, Kit nevertheless appeals to the powers that be to try an gain entry in order to get any survivors not rendered crispy by the flames to safety and because this is a movie, he actually gets his wish.
Finding a one-way only entrance to the disaster zone, Kit’s resolve is immediately tested but the fact that most of the survivors seem to be massive assholes but being the kind of decent man who desperately craves redemption that always turns up in these kinds of movies, he gamely pushes on.
However, after trying to find ways to slow the flooding and keep everybody save (sort of), Kit’s redemptive act may yet kill them all as he has entered the tunnel with absolutely no plan to get them out; worse yet, the clean up operation at the tunnel’s entrances threatens to either crush or drown them at an accelerated rate. Can Latura manage to drag this group of self-obsessed whiners to a place where they can all see daylight once again?
While Daylight chooses to be a good, old fashion rescue movie that sees a mega star cast to try and rationally talk people out of dying while being trapped deep underground (The Burrowing Inferno?), the movie is constantly let down at every turn due to it being one of the most painfully nineties movies I’ve gone back to in a while. Now, when I say nineties, I’m not referring to dated music on the soundtrack or fashions (although the diamond thieves’ choice of attire is unquestionably an unfathomable statement), no, I mean the whole nature of the film, from the directing style to the performances positively scream the worst of the decade with the main issue being literally every single thing concerning the people that need saving. Simply put; they’re fucking awful. Clumsy, nagging, obnoxious pieces of shit that constantly berate Stallone’s beleaguered Kit Latura from the very second he arrives after risking his life to get there. Jumping down his throat the second something goes wrong and then blatantly ignoring him when he tries to give them an honest answer the film seems to be trying to make Latura a martyr for even being in the near vicinity of these horribly entitled people, let along trapped in a flooding tunnel with then but all it succeeds in doing is making you wonder why he’s bothered to be there at all as he patiently tries to keep order like he’s the coach of a pre-teen little league baseball team.
Not helping matters any further is that all the dialogue is either screamed or raced through as fast as humanly possible – or both; Stallone in particular seems to think he’s getting paid by the hurried word and as he speed reads though his lines in the script he becomes virtually unintelligible despite handling the admittedly bruising action nicely. It’s hard to judge the rest of the cast, however, as for the most part their all faceless screaming people who shouldn’t even be alive after the laughably over the top explosion that flips cars like a nuke yet doesn’t melt people in their cars or even burn up all the oxygen. Amy Brenneman (whatever happened to her?) does ok with her timid playwright and an early role for Viggo Mortensen as an unbearably smug sporting goods retailer who’s Bear Grylls temperament leads him to believe he’s going to save everyone by doing a bit of climbing is a distinct standout – but everyone else gets lost in the shrill sounding jumble while spouting clangers like “Jesus, they’re gonna save us to death!”
It isn’t awful, awful, and a pre-Fast And Furious, post-Dragon Rob Cohen keeps things moving at a brisk pace despite its pedestrian script and questionable use of black people (Stan Shaw’s tunnel officer gets an amazingly shitty end of the stick) and some of the set pieces aren’t bad at all with a scene where Stallone has to negotiate a stack of giant, powering up fans proving to be pretty engrossing as the action giant characteristically grunts and howls through it all like a particularly high stakes version of Ninja Warrior.
With that being said, Daylight is more on the low end of the 90’s disaster movie explosion that happily exchanges coherence and subtlety in favour of great sets and shitty characters which ends up meaning that this movie fails to find its place in the sun…