Daylight (1996)

2010 #87
Rob Cohen | 110 mins | TV (HD) | 12 / PG-13

Daylight is a disaster movie; the kind they apparently made lots of in the ’70s, and has seen a revival (to some degree) thanks to Roland Emmerich and his brand of apocalypse-bringing. This was made in the ’90s though and, lacking any self-aware qualities, might be seen as a throwback. Whether that matters is probably an issue for more well-versed disaster movie fans than I.

The plot concerns the collapse of an underwater car tunnel, trapping people inside (naturally). It’s a tunnel that connects Manhattan to another bit of New York. Or possibly New Jersey. To be honest, I can’t remember now. Suffice to say, it doesn’t matter, besides the points that, a) who doesn’t like a movie set in New York?, and b) it allows for a moderately diverse array of victims-in-waiting. How diverse? Not very. But a bit.

Following the collapse, a fireball rips through the tunnel. It seems to destroy most cars and kill most people, except for about a dozen survivors. How are they not killed by the fireball? Well, it seems to be by the good fortune of Because We Need Some Characters. Should you ever get stuck in an exploding tunnel, pray you find yourself in a disaster movie and had been doing something mundane yet passably interesting earlier on, and you might get to survive. Naturally some of these will die later, because a disaster movie works in more-or-less the same way as a slasher movie, only with less jumps. After a few “well, they sort of deserved it” characters are dispatched with, screenwriter Leslie Bohem seems to have drawn up a list of Which Characters Would It Be Most Tragic To Lose and started to work his way through them until he reached the end of the screenplay. I suppose it’s flat-out good advice for a disaster movie, but, try not to get too attached.

The film continues to stretch credibility to the max at every turn. Are there really a series of giant fans that Stallone could conceivably lower himself through to get into the tunnel? Maybe there are — it’s got to be ventilated somehow — but it doesn’t stop the sequence in which he does it from feeling like a science-fiction movie. On the bright side, the lack of concern for plausibility makes for a couple of moderately impressive effects sequences. Despite the notion that CGI has somehow made everything look more realistic, sometimes the limits of ’90s technology help. OK, most of Daylight’s effects still look like effects, but they’re at least as believable as the plasticky sheen that still pervades most CGI.

A closing pan up to the twin towers of the World Trade Center provides, thanks to hindsight, a crushing reminder of reality when it comes to disasters. It’s a shame that an arbitrary shot of a New York landmark almost inadvertently overshadows the whole film. I suppose any shot of the Center calls up those memories now, but it’s unfortunate that this one comes at the end of a disaster movie.

All things considered, Daylight’s pretty ridiculous; in fact, it’s so daft you might begin to wonder if someone actually researched the facts of what might happen in such a disaster and it’s all a case of Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction. Or perhaps it really is just The Movies. If you don’t care for disaster movies then it’s certainly not going to change your mind, but for anyone who is prone to liking them, Daylight is, for all its faults, an entertaining way to spend a couple of hours.

3 out of 5

Daylight is on ITV tonight, Friday 21st November 2014, at 11:15pm.

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