November 6, 2012

DAYLIGHT: Too Much Mr. Nice Guy

Starring Sylvester Stallone, Amy Brenneman, Viggo Mortensen, Dan Hedaya, Jay O. sanders, Karen Young, Claire Bloom, Barry Newman. Directed by Rob Cohen. (1996, 115 min)

I sort of missed the Sylvester Stallone of the 80s, when he gave up all pretenses of acting and commenced blowing people away, when his characters (like Rambo and Cobra) were indestructible sociopaths. Those movies are stupid, to be sure, but a lot of jingoistic fun. Stallone was Hollywood’s version of our subconscious Id, making Dirty Harry look like a spokesperson for civil rights. I’m glad he’s since returned to killing without mercy lately in his recent movies.

But back then, the 80’s Stallone was replaced by one who seemed hell-bent on playing “nice” guys. In subsequent action movies like Daylight, so much care is put into making sure Stallone is likable that he ends up being the kind of pussy that kids taunt during recess, simply because they know he won’t retaliate.

Daylight is another entry in the disaster movie revival of the 90s, sort of a cross between The Poseidon Adventure and Cliffhanger. Stallone plays Kit Latura, a disgraced Emergency Medical Services expert, now working as a cab driver (essentially the same character he played in Cliffhanger). When an explosion traps several annoying characters inside an underwater commuter tunnel, Latura springs into action to help save them. Of course, all his former colleagues are there; of course, his superiors hate him; of course, they poo-poo his ideas for saving the people inside, even though they come up with no good suggestions of their own.

"Goddammit, who flushed all that toilet paper?
Anyway, Latura manages to infiltrate the tunnel to reach the survivors, and most of them remember the tragedy which disgraced him (I didn't know local EMS fuck-ups were worldwide news). Even though time is running out, and the water level is rising, these ungrateful assholes verbally berate Latura every five minutes. But because this is the “nice” Stallone, he just stands there and takes it like I did during my divorce from my first wife. The Stallone of the 80s would have kicked the shit out of them and told them to find their own fucking way out (even in The Poseidon Adventure, Gene Hackman stopped putting up with Ernest Borgnine’s shit after awhile).

Despite the fact the character of Latura is pretty much a kiss-ass wimp when it comes to confrontation, he is selflessly heroic and reasonably well-acted by Stallone (well, at least he doesn’t suck). And Daylight is actually one of the better disaster movies of the 90s, with a plot lifted right out of the 70s and above-average special effects. The initial collapse which traps most of the cast is pretty cool, with a shitload of violent explosions that barbecue poor saps as they sit behind the wheels of their cars. There’s even some honest-to-God suspense to be had as the tunnel slowly caves in, while Latura does what he can to buy them more time. Of course, unlike Hackman in The Poseidon Adventure, we’re always 100% certain Stallone will survive to redeem himself, even though he does so by saving a lot of folks who probably deserve to drown.

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