Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel

DAYLIGHT (1996) *

Directed by Rob Cohen. Written by Leslie Bohem. Photography, David Eggby. Editing, Peter Amundson. Production design, Benjamin Fernandez. Music, Randy Edelman. Producers, John David, Joseph M. Singer and David T. Friendly. Cast: Sylvester Stallone (Kit Latura), Amy Brenneman (Madelyne Thompson), Viggo Mortensen (Roy Nord), Jay O. Sanders (Steven Crighton), Karen Young (Sarah Crighton), Danielle Harris (Ashley Crighton), Claire Bloom (Eleanor Trilling), Colin Fox (Roger Trilling), Vanessa Bell Calloway (Grace), Stan Shaw (George Tyrell), Sage Stallone (Vincent), et al. 110 min. Rated PG-13.
When the Titanic went down the ship's orchestra was playing "Nearer My God to Thee. " You'd half expect the survivors in the disastrous disaster flick "Daylight" to intone "Nearer Stallone to Thee. " They don't, but many members of the audience may be humming "Nearing the End, Whoopee!" The film reminds me of the fellow who would repeatedly hit his own head with a mallet, "because it feels so good when I stop. "

In tired old fashion "Daylight" opens with the Motley Group Introduction. Among them: a disappointed writer from Indiana who, in her awful apartment fights cockroaches and rats while getting her manuscripts rejected; a dysfunctional family of three; a band of evil-looking thugs who hijack the car of a diamond merchant (he too, for some reason, looks evil-- perhaps he's a thief?). There's also Claire Bloom (in the nadir role of her life), her old husband and their dog, returning from a visit to a canine psychiatrist (sic); a prison bus transporting convicts; a sportswear entrepreneur who wastes some of our time in an irrelevant executive meeting; various Tunnel and Bridge supervisors, including African-American Vanessa Bell who is also the girlfriend of sweet tunnel cop Stan Shaw. Last but not you-know-what is El Stallone as a limo driver. His name, Kit Latura, spelled backwards is Arutal Tik.

What those disparate (and often desperate) people have in common is that they all find themselves in vehicles going through congested streets. A band of evil-looking thugs has hijacked the car of a diamond merchant (he too, for some reason, looks evil-- perhaps he's a thief?). The ridiculously ugly criminals drive in a wild, totally unbelievable and incredibly stupid manner and transform the New York streets into battlefields.

The army of cars, buses and trucks reaches a tunnel connecting Manhattan to New Jersey. It is unnamed and not identified as its model, the Holland Tunnel. In this underground/underwater location the stolen car has an unfriendly encounter with trucks of chemicals. A lulu of an explosion triggers a series of horrendous disasters, a mini-Hiroshima Holocaust of flames, toxic air, flooding waters, loose electric cables - you name it, they got it - which result in gruesomely abundant corpses, twisted bodies and metal, both ends of the tunnel getting sealed, and the group of the aforementioned motleys being trapped.

We learn that Kit Latura (whose anagram is Trakit Aul) used to be the Chief of Emergency Medical Services but was disgraced when a wrong decision by him resulted in the death of some of his men. The details come out in bits uttered without the clarity of crystal, but no matter. Right away you get the point: Kit Latura (or Arial Tukt) must save his fellow-humans plus the Jungian dog to redeem himself. Which he does.

It's a horrendous task that involves subterranean alpinism, trips (a la Flash Gordon serials) through enormous, murderous exhaust fans, acrobatics, immunity to pain and wounds, the strength of Samson, time out for wise sayings, rats, heroics by Stallone and some others, plus panicked, often antagonistic men and women who -- you guessed it -- will become brave and understanding. There is also a scene of Stallone and his patootie-to-be trapped in rising waters that are about to reach a ceiling -- straight from the torture chambers of Emperor Ming, other serials, Fu ManChu and black-and-white B-movies. There is outrageously obvious religious symbolism when an exit is found just behind a wooden statue od Christ. As for Political Correctness, the group will lose two black men, one white male and one white woman.

The acting is broad. Stallone's inelegant voice and enunciation have not changed. He seems to be searching all the time for which one of his two facial expressions to choose. The sounds emitted by things and humans are loud, speech is rapid, mumbled, often barely understandable except for the "we're not going to get out of here, are we?" refrain.

All that is bad. With so much junk and overkill, at no time do you believe the goings-on, feel any kinship, or share any pain in this puppetish movie. Nor do you learn anything beyond the superficial about the characters, who all go beyond stereotypes and into caricatures. I was, however, impressed by those indestructible flashlights that never run down and shine so well under water.

The Perils of Sylvester are made even more cartoonish since, if I understand it correctly, the Emergency Medical Service is just what it says it is. Yet Stallone is not only a fast-thinking acrobat-medic but a technical savant who knows all there is about tunnels, their complexity and their disasters.

"Daylight" is a return to the mostly dumb disaster flicks of the 1970s. The director has stated that the first movie set he ever walked on was "The Poseidon Adventure, " which impressed him, as did soon after "The Towering Inferno" whose lessons he took to heart when he was trapped on the ninth floor of a Boston hotel in a fire where five people died.

The aim here clearly is to top those earlier pictures. I admit that its special effects do just that, with modern techniques: miniatures, scaled-down sets, computer graphics and other tricks. "Daylight" was shot in the Italian Cinecitta Studios, with means and logistics that are impressive, hence the single star I give it. Otherwise, it rates 5 yawns out of 5.

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel