Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, August 19, 2016


I’ve talked about Sylvester Stallone’s experimental years before. With the end of the eighties, his status as surefire box office gold had ended as well. In hopes of maintaining his superstar clout, Stallone would try out multiple genres that were popular at the time. He did a “Die Hard” rip-off, a tough guys in tutus comedy, a superhero flick, a “Pulp Fiction”-inspired neo-noir, even an erotic thriller. “Daylight” was Stallone’s entry into the mid-nineties revival of disaster movies. The film is another from this period of Stallownage that did mediocre business at home but far better abroad. It’s another movie I remember most well as a poster in video store windows.

The setting is the Holland Tunnel, which runs under the Hudson River and connects New York City to New Jersey. A number of unlikely people gather inside the tunnel: A struggling playwright, a family in crisis, a bus of juvenile delinquents, an elderly couple, and more. A gang of jewel thieves are chased into the tunnel by cops. Unfortunately, a truck from a chemical company, hauling illegal toxic waste, is also in the tunnel. The thieves and the chemicals collide, causing a giant explosion. The resulting collapse traps the different people inside. Kit Latura, a disgraced former chief of New York’s EMS, decides to descend into the tunnel, in hopes of rescuing those inside.

Like the other genres Stallone would dabble in, the disaster movie has a defined series of troupes and clichés. One of those is a large ensemble cast, a divergent collection of characters brought together by fate and the disaster at hand. “Daylight” does not break from tradition. Like Charlton Heston or Dean Martin before him, Stallone plays the ordinary but brave man that becomes a hero. Sly’s Kit has the expected tragic backstory, as a botched terrorism drill under his command cost the lives of several men. By the story’s end, Latura has been redeemed by his acts of courage. At the time, Stallone made a premature announcement that “Daylight” would be his last action movie. He said he was getting too old for the genre. Perhaps as a swan song, “Daylight” has Sly doing some solid stunts, like a decently suspenseful sequence devoted to him climbing through a series of giant fans. Kit is mostly a standard hero part but Stallone brings some okay humanity to the role.

Like many disaster films, there are other characters that compete for Stallone’s hero for the status of protagonist. Amy Brenneman’s Maddy eventually emerges as Kit Latura’s love interest. A failed playwright fed up with her roach and rat infested apartment, Maddy displays an unlikely heroic streak. Such as when she wrestles a live wire with a pair of boots or outruns a wall of water. Brenneman is likable even if the character is stock parts. Viggo Mortensen appears as the movie’s decoy hero, a fitness celebrity and rock climber who meets a suitably ironic fate. I also like the troubled family, who are attempting to recover from the father’s infidelity. Jay O. Sanders plays the dad, who begins as an asshole but grows more likable as the story progresses. Karan Young shows off a decent caustic side as the mother, who develops a hopeless side during the disaster. Most notably, past and future scream queen Danielle Harris plays the teenage daughter, who documents the disaster with her camera.

It makes sense that some of these characters would be in this location. The disaster genre being what it is, there’s also a few characters whose presence in this plot are rather unlikely. Such as an elderly couple and their dog, who suffers from anxiety. (The dog, not the couple.) Colin Fox plays Roger, the old man, while Claire Bloom plays Eleanor, his wife. Their dog, Cooper, is a Weimaraner. It seems slightly implausible that an elderly couple and their pet, much less one with trouble traveling, would survive a tunnel exploding and collapsing. Bloom and Fox, who sometimes seem out of place in the film, naturally don’t make it to the end. Because blockbusters can blow up cities but dare not kill the dog, Cooper does make it to the end. The bus full of juvenile delinquents are another laughable addition. One of the kids has claustrophobia and another is a young pickpocket played by Sage Stallone. There’s also a token female and an asshole. As you’d expect, the kids are redeemed for all crimes by the end. It’s fairly silly stuff.

The primary threat in disaster flicks are usually the disaster. Which makes it odd that the films usually have some sort of antagonistic force. In “Daylight,” it’s the current chief of the EMS, played by Mark Rolston. While Kit wants to rescue the people in the tunnel, Rolston assumes they are dead and plans to flood the tunnel by digging into it. This is a fairly silly subplot and only takes up a few scenes. The other people on the surface are more helpful. There’s Vanessa Bell Calloway’s Grace, a dispatcher with an improbable islander accent. Her boyfriend is Frank, a cop played by Dan Hedaya, who is trapped inside the tunnel. Frank is another one of the film’s noble sacrifices, whose eventual fate provides “Daylight” with its best emotional beat. How everyone comes together to rescue Hedaya’s character is actually rather inspiring.

“Daylight” is the work of director Rob Cohen, who previously made “DragonHeart” and would find his widest success with “The Fast and the Furious” and “xXx.” As those credits suggest, Cohen packs the film full of explosions. As a special effects extravaganza, the film is most diverting. The initial explosion and collapse of the tunnel is an effective sequence, feeling appropriately chaotic. Any time the story gets too slow, Cohen throws in another explosion, fireballs ripping through the tunnel on multiple occasions. As the tunnel starts to flood, “Daylight” also packs in a number of effective water gags. Stallone places explosives inside a waterfall, which leads to himself and Brenneman outrunning a rolling gas tank. Much of the latter half of the film is set underwater, as the characters try to swim to safety, above the ever rising torrents. My favorite moment from this half is pays off on an earlier scene concerning rats. For its climax, “Daylight” combines both interests, as the main characters are saved from drowning by a big ass explosion. That’s the kind of thing that probably only works in movies.

“Daylight” is a decently entertaining popcorn muncher while you’re watching it. The film partakes freely of the clichés of the genre, making it a familiar experience for anyone well versed in disaster flicks. This quality, which makes it mildly entertaining while in progress, also makes it deeply forgettable once the end credits roll. (Which also, by the way, feature a sickeningly sincere love ballad called “Whenever There is Love.”) It’s also not a great display for Sly’s abilities, as he’s acting merely as a pawn for a standard script. While other ‘90s disaster movies, like “Twister” or “Volcano,” remain lovably dumb points of nostalgia, “Daylight’ quickly faded from the public’s memory. [6/10]

[X] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Social Outcast [Disgraced Paramedic]
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling

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