Universal // 1996 // 115 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // June 28th, 2007
Hold your breath.
Unearthed from the tomb of forgettable '90s actioners and slapped silly with the HD treatment comes this Sly Stallone vehicle about a group of whiny dopes trapped in a burning freeway tunnel.
Stallone. Is. Kit. Latura.
Who is Kit Latura? An out-of-work porn star? A male free diver? A supporting actor in a smash Broadway musical about the invention of peanut butter? Nope. How about a kick-ass Emergency Medical Services disaster relief worker?
Following a scandal that led to his firing, Kit pays the bills by driving a limo around New York City. One fateful night will force Kit to discard his chauffeur façade, strap on an L.L. Bean hiking vest and insert himself into the deadliest disaster the New York Turnpike Authority has ever had to face. A car accident has led to a toxic waste fireball, broiling the inside of the tunnel and frying most of the people in their cars. Only a few survive, including a comely young playwright named Madelyne (Amy Brenneman). Topside, Kit rolls up his sleeves and volunteers to jump into the volatile situation in hopes of rescuing the survivors before the evil city engineers blow the tunnel to clear up traffic. This involves jumping through huge exhaust fans.
Never saw this film until now, and, frankly, I don't feel like I missed too much. I don't mind Stallone and think he served his time well as an '80s/ '90s R-rated action icon, but this distilled disaster film did him no favors. Then again, maybe I'm coming into this with a bad attitude because I don't much care for disaster movies. There's something about man vs. @#$%-ed up circumstances that just doesn't appeal to me; I'd much rather have Stallone protagonists sparring with Easter European bank robbers in the Rocky Mountains than putting out fires and swimming.
But let's focus on the task at hand. If disaster movies are your thing, then, yeah, I suppose you can siphon some entertainment out of this soggy nail-biter. Director Rob Cohen, who shows much more directorial restraint here than in his Vin Diesel vehicles -- save for the big-ass fireball-ish special effect that kicks the action off -- crams his film with just about every disaster scenario-that-can-happen-in-a-freeway-tunnel imaginable. You got yourself belching fire, rising waters, sinkholes, explosions, cave-ins, even gyrating live wires spitting out sparks. For what is a limited setting for a disaster, Cohen knows how to work the "Oh man we're screwed" mojo. The action set pieces are sporadically cool, the highlight being Kit's death-defying exhaust fan maneuvering; on the flipside, the CGI-soaked finale is both unbelievable and unconvincing, and heralds the directorial choices that would eventually leads to lame CGI avalanches.
Stallone does his usual good guy shtick, a caring, sensitive action hero without many personality flaws -- or quirks for that matter. As the film's hero, Kit's not really too interesting, just barking orders and bouncing around from one explosion to the next. Supporting him is a handful of forgettable characters, save for Brenneman's Madelyne, who distinguishes herself by swinging on an electrical wire and running through the entire film in a soaking wet, form-fitting sweater. Oh, I almost forgot about Viggo Mortensen who does some brief, but interesting work as an ill-fated wannabe savior. Because disaster films rely heavily on the empathetic bonds between the survivors, this is a major stumbling block for Daylight: I simply didn't care who lived or who died.
If you already own Daylight on DVD, I see no reason to double-dip into the HD market. In fact, even if you don't own the DVD and are dying to purchase the film, you're better off sticking with standard definition at a fraction of the price.
I wasn't impressed with this disc. The 1080-p, VC-1 encoded 185:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer failed to wow me. Despite some strong color work and an increase in detailing, overall the video quality was disappointing when compared to other high-def release. It is easily the weakest looking film I've got in my burgeoning HD DVD collection. The picture is often soft and even the visual effects of the CGI -- which should jump out with flair -- are flat. Overall, the film looks dated, and it's only 10 years old. A Dolby Digital 5.1 Plus audio track accompanies, and it has its moments. The fan segment stands out especially and the multitude of explosions reverberates nicely. For the extras, don't expect anything new: "The Making of Daylight" is an hour-long recycled feature and Rob Cohen's audio commentary, while decent, is the same one recorded for the film's release on Laserdisc. A smaller, eight-minute promotional featurette and a goofy Donna Summer and Bruce Roberts music video cap the disappointing offering.
The film is a C, C- affair, a thriller with a few action highlights and an array of milquetoast characters. The HD DVD offers some improved visuals, but that's about it.
Maybe you should stay in that tunnel a bit longer...
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Director's Commentary
* "The Making of Daylight"
* Promotional Featurette
* Music Video