Sylvester Stallone’s famously calamitous 1996 star vehicle disaster flick Daylight finally clambers to Blu-ray on January 24th, and while the film is certainly no great shakes (little surprise given that it’s directed by Rob Cohen), it is mildly amusing and certainly not among the very worst of Sly’s oeuvre. However, this is a particularly sour home video release because it’s a criminally slap-dash, bare bones effort, boasting not a single special feature, all the more insulting because just last week, Universal announced the overseas equivalent – due out in April – is positively overflowing with extras by comparison (Cohen’s commentary could be rather interesting for one).
As for the film itself? The hilariously over-baked premise involves a massive car accident taking place in the Holland Tunnel (which connects New York to New Jersey), in which a vehicle carrying toxic chemicals explodes, eventually collapsing the exits at both ends of the tunnel. With survivors sealed inside, suspended emergency response grunt Kit Latura (Stallone) flaunts all sorts of protocol and decides to try and find a way in to save them before their time runs out and they’re either buried alive, drowned, or succumb to the toxic mess floating around the air.
The last time I saw Daylight, I couldn’t have been more than 10 years old. Over a decade later, it certainly opens up some interesting dialogues; not only that this is one of the more amusingly preposterous of the 90s run of disaster flicks, but, to my absolute amazement, it features Viggo Mortensen in a pre-Rings role, sporting a profoundly ridiculous blond weave, though still giving the film’s best performance by miles as an arrogant survival fetishist who thinks he knows better than Kit (spoiler alert: he doesn’t).
From the outset, the various stock idiot characters are introduced with a certain personality-free efficiency that suggests we can look forward to them being summarily blown up, crushed, drowned and what not, pretty soon. The opening catastrophe, an admittedly quite impressive explosion (given the ropey standard for 1996 visual effects), and probably the most absurdly elephantine fireball in film history, makes the slow-motion napalm sequence of Apocalypse Now seem like a kid playing with firecrackers. Of course, none of the most beauteous or charismatic characters are killed in the opening sequence, instead cowering in their cars from a giant wall of flame, as this somehow protects them from temperatures which easily make the body of a car look like a Mars bar that’s been in your trouser pocket for three Summer’s days.
Stallone, meanwhile, playing one of the sillier-monikered protagonists of any 90s disaster flick (and that’s going some), is driving a cab at the time of the accident for then-unknown reasons; is it a wry comment on how poorly paid emergency workers are, perhaps, that he has to resort to moonlighting? Well, no. It is in fact a play ripped right out of the action cliché handbook, in a half-assed attempt to generate tension off the back of the fact that Kit was recently suspended as an emergency responder for a bungled mission which caused a few deaths.
Despite having to wade through no end of sigh-inducing clichés, Sly actually comes off better here than many of his co-stars, a rather unfortunate result of a naff script combining with bit-part actors who may well have been dragged off the street and paid in ham sandwiches. Of particularly shambolic – and hilarious – note is a scaredy cat felon who pulls the sorts of mangled faces of horror that suggest he’s just had an encounter with the girl from The Ring, and she’s just started taking up proctology.
The capers to try and keep things interesting range from crushingly banal to laughably off-kilter, so here’s a run-down of the best; the pretty female lead has a wrestling match with a gigantic electrical cable while a pool of gasoline gathers at her feet; Sly navigates a series of comically oversized ventilation fans with the grace of a blind man playing Tomb Raider, and at one point runs around the turbine like a steroid-pumped hamster with slightly better hair. Oh, and once Kit finally makes it to the survivors, the ungrateful scrotes he goes through all this buffoonery to save have the good nature to pry into his chequered professional past. Tossers.
So, it’s more sporadically amusing than particularly entertaining, but where else can you see Sly making haste away from a giant gas canister like an audition for the next Indiana Jones film? Any attempt at pathos – and believe me, the film tries at great length – is quelled by having the most likeable character be mortally wounded half-way through in an unintentionally comical, pantomime-like fashion (“The car’s behind you!”), before the character in question, like most every ethnic character in this film at some point, splutters “I can’t feel my legs”.
Half-hour before the end, steam well and truly runs out, and the mess delineates into a repetitive snore-fest of people walking in tunnels accompanied by the occasional flood or stampede of rats, while occasionally cutting to the bemused saps working on the outside. Aside from the genuinely horrifying demise that the best character is eventually consigned to, Daylight ultimately descends into mawkishness alongside some increasingly desperate attempts to galvanise an iota of tension, chiefly the aforementioned rats episode. The climax is also so spatially confused that I had to rewind the film three times to try and work out how the heroes suddenly moved from one area to the next.
I never resolved this quandary.
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Daylight is available on Blu-ray now.
This article was first posted on February 6, 2011