Action Heroes – Stallone: Daylight

Sylvester Stallone in Rob Cohen directed big budget, small scale quasi disaster movie action! – Discuss…

Exactly ten years after Cobra (I mention it for no other reason than because of having reviewed that particular slice of Sly Pie last), and we find Mr. Stallone still looking young, and enjoying the mid 90’s in pretty rude health.

Hits like Cliffhanger, Demolition Man and The Specialist as well as later critical triumphs like Copland served to re-bolster Stallone’s continuing star power pretty well. Particularly after the disastrous years immediately after the whole Rocky V debacle (look out for the retro on that particular stallion-pat coming soon).

Daylight came along amidst this fairly rosie, somewhat renaissance period Stallone was enjoying. The movie represents an all but forgotten part of that spate of 70’s style disaster movies that the mid to late 90’s spawned. Titles like ‘Deep Impact’, ‘Armageddon‘, ‘Dante’s Peak‘, ‘Volcano‘ et al.

I guess the doomed planet stories hog the lingering limelight in people’s mind’s eye, but I still wonder why Daylight is quite so anonymous within the disaster pantheon.

It was a tighter, smaller concept of course (no planet smashing asteroids, or mile high tidal waves here). I think in many ways it benefitted from being so locked down and localised; allowing a tadge more character depth and dimensionality than your average big scale disaster flick.

The movie was a legitimate if only modest net box office success, against a pretty hefty production budget not far short of $100m!

We see our Sly cruising pretty familiar territory, doing his usual no nonsense, can do, super selfless, regular Joe taking charge, super heroic schtick. Hey, if it ain’t broke….

Stallone’s character [Kit Latura] (an ex NYC Emergency Medical Services Chief, now jobbing as a taxi driver……yeah I know, super plausible) is tasked with saving a bunch of folks after an amazing (and frankly, ridiculous) chain of events lead to a total and catastrophic road tunnel explosion and collapse. Stallone’s performance is a touch more nuanced than might be expected, and allows for a modicum of weakness, loss of control, and self-doubt to creep in to his usual hero persona. I quite liked that. I’m a massive Stallone fan, but even I can start to whither and become wearied of the Dudley Dooright routine sometimes. Because of this, anything slightly off the reservation is welcome. Stallone really can act, and it’s nice when we’re reminded of that fact.

As you can imagine, with nearly a hundred million doubloons to play with, (although in my opinion hampered by a slightly ball-less 12 certificate); all manner of convincingly staged and dramatic set pieces abound, and importantly not everyone makes it out alive. It’s pretty good honest fun to be fair, and works very well on that basic ‘disaster movie’ level.

I also found the movie to conform loosely to a slightly messianic Christian allegory in places with certain characters (including Sly himself), and scenarios fitting elements of this kind of interpretation, but more on this later.

Alright, let’s talk about the players: As well as Stallone, we have an interesting supporting cast that varies quite a lot in age and effectiveness. A selected rundown of my personal cast highlights are as follows:

Firstly we have Viggo Mortensen – If you’ve not seen the movie then I apologise for any spoilers, but dammit, it is 15 years old, so if I’m ruining it for you it’s your own fault for being tardy. Ok, so Mortensen’s character (Roy Nord) is not around for long, but he certainly makes his mark. A pre-Aragorn Viggo is a funny thing to behold. Seemingly so young, so clean of cut and wavy of hair. His character is an uber wealthy extreme sports personality businessman who’s cock sure, arrogant, massively full of himself and woefully overconfident in his own abilities. As this is a disaster movie, his comeuppance is assured.

Amy Brenneman needs a mention as perennial screw up playwright Madelyne – She was a great choice for the role, and delivered a performance that gave the movie it’s heart and soul, and provided Sly with a the means to up his own game. Her character represents the best and most noble qualities of us, the audience. She rises to the challenge with no training and no experience, but remains terrified and properly fragile. As I said, we identify with her character. However, if we’re honest; we also see ourselves in the petty and sometimes selfish words and actions of the other survivors. Madelyne represents who we would like to think we would be in a situation like this.

The film also features a now virtually adult Sage Stallone who we last saw playing Rocky’s son Robert in the aforementioned, most unpopular of Rocky episodes; Rocky V.

I always wondered why Sage wasn’t recast as Robert when the sixth instalment came around in 2006 (Milo Ventimiglia taking the role of course). Watching Daylight again for this retro, he doesn’t seem particularly capable. Maybe he auditioned for Rocky Balboa and got rejected, who knows? Woulda been a kinda cool continuity bonus though.

Ok, I could go on and mention a few of the other notable cast members but hell, I’m feeling fruity and really all you need to know is that many of these roles are filled with some pretty distinguished if not ‘household’ Hollywood names. My favourite being the “Whoa! Where have you been for twenty years?!” appearance of Mr. Vanishing Point himself Barry Newman. But there’s also gentle bear Stan Shaw, veteran actress Claire Bloom, Dan – hairy back – Hedaya (watch Alien: Resurrection for his impressive hair vest), Oh! and a nearly grown up Danielle Harris (I remember her from ‘Halloween 4′, ‘The Last Boy Scout’ and about a million other child roles).

So the movie presents a certain staple Stallone playbook that immediately comes into force once the ‘peril’ has presented itself. The playbook in question of course is the old ‘Listen to uncle Sylvester, cos’ he knows best, and if you don’t; you’ll probably die’ – you know the score. I’ll give you the first and most (unintentionally) funny example:

Right, so Sly was the EMS chief, but got disgraced and canned after taking the rap for an incident where people died. The current chief (who doesn’t like Sly much and is obviously completely wrong about absolutely everything), doesn’t want to listen to Stallone’s (obviously completely correct) suggestions, and instead berates and belittles him instead, thereby setting himself up for some serious blow back – The lords of Karma duly come and kick him in the nuts about ten seconds later, in an hilariously comical, blunt and heavy handed way. He gets in the shaft, and the shaft goes boom!, but It wouldn’t be that much more ridiculous if the doomed dude had just stood there and declared:

“I’m gonna do it my way and you lot can kiss my ring-piece… I’m right, you’re wrong, screw you and the horse you rode into town on Sly, you short arse. Nothing’s gonna happen to me, I’ll be right here saving the day and kicking butt all the way to the bitter end mate, you’ll see, mark my words….” – WUMPH BOOOOM!! ….and he’s dog-meat.

It’s the same story with Mortensen, I mentioned earlier a certain messianic allegory in the movie. Well, in this scenario, Viggo’s character is the false prophet. Unable to see past his own super inflated ego and truly care about the other survivors. They follow him, and believe in him, and he leads them along a false path. For him, the whole situation is nothing but the latest challenge to overcome, an unexpected extreme sport event. He treats the whole thing as a business opportunity to further his ‘brand’. After repeated warnings by Sly (once he arrives on the scene), that he’s wrong, and in mortal danger, Viggo and his engorged ego (of course) meets his end; splashed under about 36 tons of shaft debris that he was certain wouldn’t budge a minute earlier. Oh well, it’s amazing anyone continues to defy uncle Sly in these situations. “Hope you make it, Roy” – Sly says, and Roy retorts “I always make it” – WUMPH BOOOOM!!….and he’s pancake mix.

One of the minor characters still following and trusting Roy Nord, assaults Latura, and tries to stop him going and retrieving Nord from the shaft he’s climbing – WUMPH BOOOM!!….and he’s got a piece of rebar through the heart.

I’m just telling you, don’t bloody well go against Sly, you’ll get creamed every time!!

So like Moses leading the israelites out of Egypt, Stallone leads his ever dwindling bunch of squabbling bickering survivors out of the tunnel and into daylight. Well, he can only show them the last part of the way. His own journey and that of Madelyne is a little more problematic, and they end up being literally ‘born again’ into the Hudson river by a massively unsurvivable looking explosive ejection from the now crumbling tunnel. Up to that point the movie had mostly contained itself within the realms of hyper-real believability, but the expulsion scene is a stretch.

Sly is in a bad way and bucks his own convention again, by ending the movie on a gurney and looking not unlike he did after first going the distance with Apollo Creed (Rocky) except for the busted nose of course. Pretty weird seeing the Twin WTC Towers in the background as well. Always a chilling thing to see in movies for me.

Of course our Italian Stallion wasn’t ready to throw off the shackles of his own conventions fully, and thus the film ends with a comic one liner delivered from the gurney to Madelyne while discussing meeting up (presumably to explore their new relationship), and Sly goes – “We gotta take the bridge” – Oh ha ha, very droll.

Cue end credits and a terribly warbley duet theme song which thankfully disappears under the weight of its own extreme cheese, and morphs back into the underwhelming orchestral score instead, and then it’s all over.

All in all, I was quite impressed with Daylight. I remember thinking it was pretty good at the time, if a little lost underneath all the asteroids and giant tsunamis that also appeared round about then. It’s a well made, and deftly constructed focused peril movie, and tries not to be too dumb too often (although the contrivance of the NYC tunnel repair crew’s heavy machinery exacerbating Sly and co’s plight in the name of ‘having to get the tunnel back open ASAP’) is somewhat annoying and unlikely.

It is very ‘Poseidon Adventure‘ for the most part, and the Christian subtext is not so blatant that it spoils the movie. In fact I’m not even sure if others would agree it’s even present, and I could certainly mentally tune out that thought process and enjoy the movie at face value.

Even though the (mostly ILM) special effects are extremely good (and hold up really well even now); I can’t help feeling some of the set pieces look a little too reminiscent of some of the attractions I’ve been on at Disney and Universal theme parks in Florida. I guess this is unavoidable to a degree, and would be the same whatever confined flood/fire type action you tried to present. It was a distraction though, I’ll admit.

Sly is still eminently vital, and looked like he really threw himself into doing the rough and tumble stuff here more than ever. You can’t knock the guy for effort, and the film definitely still works. I’m very glad i managed to picked up a brand new, sealed R2 Blu-Ray of it for the princely sum of £6 for this retro – bargain!

Ben Pegley

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