1996’s “Daylight” is pretty much just a nineties version of “The Poseidon Adventure.” There’s an eccentric old couple, a resistant tough guy constantly battling with our hero, a cynical woman who bonds with the hero, an epic disaster that is impossible to rebound from, a moment where our characters have to swim under water to make it to a safe zone hoping to escape inevitable drowning, in the climax we see authorities opening a hatch for our victims to escape through, and like Hackman’s hero, Stallone even screams at god as he fights to live in the climax.
Instead of a priest struggling with his faith, we have an ex EMS worker struggling with a decision that cost him his job and a lot of lives, instead of a major overturned cruise ship housing hundreds, it’s a major New York City tunnel exploding that’s housing dozens. And instead of Gene Hackman, we get Sylvester Stallone, as a self-sacrificing inadvertent hero tasked with the mission to bring as many people to daylight as he possibly can even if it means giving up his own life. “Daylight” is a pretty underrated little gem that’s not so much an action movie as it is a dramatic thriller and one that relies on Sylvester Stallone being more of a character than a gun toting tough guy. There’s no epic one-liner, no tough guy crap, and he even manages to get attacked by an oversized convict who holds Stallone against his will.
Stallone tries his hardest in this performance as a man who takes it upon himself to get the small group of people out of the tunnel dodging deadly exhaust fans, electrical wires, cave-ins, and must try to stop rapidly rising water from killing them all, and for what it’s worth he does pull this off. In spite of some missteps along the way, Stallone succeeds in portraying a pretty sympathetic character who refuses to give up because he can’t face another decision that will cost the lives of more innocent people. Enlisting a bevy of talented character actors (including Viggo Mortensen), director Rob Cohen pretty successfully stages a disaster that sets down in the Holland tunnel, the basic epicenter of New York City that becomes a death trap for anyone and everyone unlucky enough to have been caved in after a toxic explosion.
Some juvenile convicts, and a few bystanders must find a way out before toxic gas kills them slowly, which prompts Kit Latura to snap in to action and get out as many people as he can. Once he’s able to get in, Cohen sets up a series of obstacles that are obvious ways to keep our attention but are still rather effective. Even though Stallone was past his prime here, he handles the action scenes quite competently and relies on being a more humble individual who uses his know how and ingenuity to get the survivors out of harm’s way instead of muscle. Cohen doesn’t give his characters a lick of a chance of getting through this ordeal as every thing that can wrong does go wrong, and Latura is outmatched from the get go.
Folks like Amy Brenneman, Danielle Harris, and Stan Shaw pick up the slack providing interesting dichotomies for Kit who all doubt he can find a way out but have no choice but to follow him when the shit hits the fan. Much like “The Poseidon Adventure” the group eventually splits loyalties and can never be sure who holds the key to their survival, so the fight for their life becomes ever more rigorous as the city officials soon decide that all hope is lost and choose to cave the entire tunnel in. Director Rob Cohen is in rare form here providing a merciless tension and suspense that keeps “Daylight” at a constant speedy pace and hearkens back to the classic disaster films of the seventies. If they had to modernize “The Poseidon Adventure” this should have been it instead of the awful “Poseidon” starring Kurt Russell. With great direction, a brisk tense story, and a very good performance from Stallone, this is a nineties disaster flick that deserves more attention.