Sunday, May 1, 2016


There's a scene at the end of the first act of DAYLIGHT (1996) which illustrates just how stupid this disaster movie is. Sylvester Stallone stars as Kit Latura, a disgraced former NYC EMS Chief who has a shot at redemption by rescuing a group of survivors trapped in an underground traffic tunnel following a major, explosive accident. Kit has to navigate a series of gigantic ventilation fans to gain access to the tunnel. For some reasons that the script (by Leslie Bohem), never quite exactly makes clear, these immense contraptions cannot be just stopped for easy access. They can only be slowed down in 15 second increments which means Kit must ride a moving fan until it slows down enough for him to slip through the blades and drop to the next fan in the series where he repeats the process again.

 And how do we know he has only 15 seconds to do this? Because on the wall of each fan unit there's a convenient display panel with a red digital clock readout inexorably counting down the seconds. Think about that for a minute. Why is there a display panel, with a clock no less, on the chamber wall of a giant fan, a space where no human being will ever have a reason to be? Who is ever going to see these things? It's like having a clock in the ventilation system of your home. What possible purpose could it serve? The device exists of course as just that, a construction of the plot that is needed to maintain the suspense during this action sequence. I say it's stupid, lazy writing but then, what do you expect from something like this?

DAYLIGHT, is a throwback to the glory days of the big budget, all-star cast disaster films of the 1970s, most of which were produced by Irwin "The Master of Disaster" Allen. Except that DAYLIGHT doesn't have a large enough budget to allow for any "all-stars". It's a Stallone vehicle, pure and simple. Oh, it does blatantly steal a page from THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972), by having a sequence in which all of the survivors must swim underwater (in 38 degrees water, no less) with an older woman (Claire Bloom), dying in her husband's arms afterward. And there's a foolhardy outdoor adventurer/advertising executive (Viggo Mortensen) who just happens to have his climbing gear with him, who strikes out on his own before Kit arrives and meets an immediate death. Again, see THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE.

The exterior sequences of DAYLIGHT were shot on location in New York City, while the interiors (including massive tunnel sets) were filmed at Cinecitta Studios in Rome. The special effects are a mix of full scale, miniatures and digital imagery which, for the most part are pretty convincing but this being 1996, there are a couple of dodgy shots that don't quite ring true.

Stallone is, as always, a durable action hero. He's ripped, tight-lipped and determined to save everyone, even the dog, Cooper. He comes equipped with a wonderful Doc Savage-style vest containing all sorts of terrific gear including flashlights, ropes, climbing gear, explosives, fuses, etc. Trouble is, he has trouble keeping it on. The vest is one of those now-you-see-it, now-you-don't things that underscore bad continuity.

All of the people that survive the ordeal in DAYLIGHT come out more or less none the worse for their harrowing adventure. I can't help but think that if people were trapped in an underground tunnel following a massive explosion and multiple car crashes there would be a multitude of cuts, abrasions, bruises, broken bones, burns, hearing loss, breathing difficulties, etc. Instead, the survivors clothes are a little dirty, torn and wet and any injuries sustained seem minor and superficial. Except for the ones who die.

DAYLIGHT strains that willing suspension of disbelief to the breaking point. The tunnels are remarkably well lit after the disaster, average people perform super-heroic feats and seem to have the lung capacity of the Incredible Hulk. What's ironic about the film is that the last shot shows the World Trade Center towers standing proud over New York. A few years later, the world would witness a disaster movie come to horrifying life and we know just what a true tragedy and loss of life really looks like. Post 9-11 disaster films have had to up the ante to compete with the real thing but DAYLIGHT, made in a pre-9-11 world, stands as a quaint, cheesy relic of what we thought disasters were like.

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