(Rob Cohen, USA, 1996)


Watching Daylight, I at last understood why disaster movies such as Airport (1970) and The Towering Inferno (1974) now seem like the daggiest, creakiest relics of the 1970s.

Although these movies are full of spectacular, supposedly thrilling events they are constructed more like soap operas than action films – the human element takes far too much precedence over the actual disaster component.

Daylight, however, is a disaster story vigorously styled for speed and action. The initial cataclysm is expertly set-up: on a typically harsh, nervy day in New York, people go driving into the underwater tunnel linking Manhattan with New Jersey. An accident of apocalyptic proportions then occurs – as terrifying as the air disaster in Weir’s Fearless (1993), and more convincing than any set-piece in Twister (1996) or Independence Day (1996).

An odd assortment of survivors find themselves trapped inside the collapsed tunnel, desperately fighting for a way out. It is up to Kit (Sylvester Stallone), currently a cabbie but formerly an expert in handling emergency situations, to galvanise these shrieking folks and lead them to safety. Fortunately, Kit finds one feisty, level-headed person among them, Madelyne (Amy Brennenman).

The soapie legacy of ’70s disaster movies survives in the plethora of sub-plots. Each character has an obligatory personal journey to make, some inane struggle with grief, fear or prejudice. This is the film’s least interesting level, as its makers appear to have realised: they sacrifice emotional coherence for spectacular thrills at every possible occasion.

And what a spectacle it is. Director Rob Cohen (Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story [1993]) has a fine grasp of what makes an action movie tick. He offers a stunning, often heart-stopping passage through dark tunnels, tight spaces, and pressurised zones. Daylight is not in the league of Mission: Impossible (1996), but it is much more satisfying entertainment than The Rock (1996).

MORE Cohen: The Fast and the Furious, A Small Circle of Friends, xXx

© Adrian Martin December 1996

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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