The shortest distance between two points is disaster.
Folks, that tagline is the finest example of truth in advertising I have seen in a long time.
An underground disaster in a major metropolitan transportation system, impending doom for trapped victims, a disgraced hero valiantly trying to save the day…Daylight, right? No, sorry, but thanks for playing. This is its poor-cousin doppelgänger, Daybreak. Ignore the silly sub-plot, limited characters, and painful acting if you can, and try to enjoy a dose of disaster cheese, if you can.
Facts of the Case
Dillon (Ted McGinley) is former hockey great who has fallen on hard times. Past-due bills flood his mailbox, repo men are after his car, and his career is now working maintenance for the Los Angeles subway system, the City Transit Authority (CTA). His life takes a sudden twist when a strong earthquake and aftershocks cause catastrophic damage to the subway system, trapping a train and its handful of passengers in harm's way. Dillon leaps into action, contacting the assorted group of passengers (a teenage loner/brainiac, a traumatized, depressed woman, an über-macho boyfriend and his eye-candy girlfriend).
Leading them to safety is no small feat, as they face, water, fire, electricity, collapsing concrete, locked doors, and other life-endangering horrors. If that were not enough, a deputy mayor (Ken Olandt) fears that this band of survivors will stumble upon a cache of toxic waste stored in a part of the subway tunnels. As this would uncover his scam to milk the city of millions of dollars through his secretly controlled company, he makes every effort to delay, impede, and endanger the survivors. Naturally, this brings him into conflict with Dillon's boss, CTA chief Stan Marshall (Roy Scheider), who is devoted to fixing the damage and rescuing his own man and the survivors. Thrills, chills, and ninety-some minutes of jam-packed drama later, we find out who wins, who loses, who lives, and who dies.
Sometimes being a reviewer is like walking through the less traveled aisles of your local video store. You see movie after movie that you have never heard a whisper about starring actors and actresses that ring no bells. Feeling lucky, you pick up a movie at random and bring it home to view. Sure, you're playing cinematic roulette, but there are some totally unknown yet quality films out there, and you hope that this just might be that one diamond in a cesspit of mediocrity. Movies like Daybreak take that nascent hope, crush it to a fine powder, sprinkle it over oatmeal, and feed it to you for breakfast.
The video transfer is rather good, though may have been hacked into the pan & scan format. Regardless, whether it was filmed in widescreen or not, the quality of the picture is undeniable. With a mostly clean print, reasonable sharpness, saturated colors and no apparent digital artifacting, this is better video than you would expect from a B-movie. Between the cinematographer and the DVD authoring folks, these people knew what they were doing.
The audio is a competent Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. The rear surrounds are not as aggressively used as they would be in a top-class action audio mix, but the subwoofer is well integrated with the on-screen action. The explosions and other effects are impressive in breadth and scope, without losing the dialogue amongst the mayhem.
Aside from the technical qualities of the video and audio, I have to admit that the production values for Daybreak are high. The toxic waste accident at the start of the film does have a high cheesy-horror look, but as the film goes along, the pyrotechnics, explosions, crashes and such are reasonably convincing and of good quality. If the script and acting could have kept pace with the presentation, Daybreak might have been a kick-ass film. Alas…
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There are so many reasons why Daybreak skipped an embarrassing theatrical release for the dubious charms of a hack and slash release as it went direct to video. Let me count the ways, if you dare.
Daybreak could have been a serviceable, if uninspired, made-for-TV movie. Let us begin with the foundation of any film, the script. As with a house, if the foundation is flawed, the endeavor is doomed to fail. This story comes by way of Geri Cudia Barger, producer of banal fluff Ping! and soft-core Shannon Tweed schlock Powerplay, with apparent neophyte Jonathan Raymond completing the script. I can only imagine that Ms. Barger scribbled a few notes on a cocktail napkin after being inspired by a rental copy of Daylight and then called in Mr. Raymond to type up the script. Maybe they are very proud of their efforts, but were my name associated with this project, I would engage in a spirited round of hand-to-hand combat to try and get my name off it. Taking such a masterpiece and giving it to B-movie director Jean Pellerin (The Clown at Midnight, Laserhawk) just gives Daybreak its coup de grâce.
The entire sleazy deputy mayor/toxic waste subplot is not merely stupid, but entirely unnecessary. The natural difficulties posed by the need to escape alive from a significant earthquake in a subway system is quite enough trouble for the characters without injecting a wholly artificial difficulty as an excuse to throw more so-called drama into the mix. Speaking of things artificial, the characters are drawn with truly plastic detail from the stock character trash bin. Let's see, the disgraced hero with a chance to redeem himself? Check. The pretty, compassionate, ex-Playmate eye-candy? Check. The saintly, loyal civil servant struggling against tall odds? Check. The geeky loner kid who instinctively knows how to save the day? Check. A sleazy, corrupt politician? Check. Throw in a pointlessly antagonistic, jealous, paranoid boyfriend type, and you've got the whole set.
The acting is on par with the quality of the script, with one significant exception. I call Daybreak the "Roy Scheider Needs Money" movie, although from looking at his filmography, sadly, he has done many of these movies. However, with major films like The French Connection, Jaws, and All That Jazz, Roy Scheider is a man with serious acting talent, and even on Daybreak, he lets us see his ability. That no one else in Daybreak can match his talent is all too evident, and you need look no further than his final dramatic confrontation with Ken Olandt's sleazy deputy mayor. Roy Scheider is enjoying his toe-to-toe verbal boxing match, but he's alone on the stage. Ken Olandt is not even in the same acting ballpark, robbing the scene of its potential power. As for the most important lead role, well, sorry, but Ted McGinley just isn't right for the part. A fine insufferable jock in the Revenge of the Nerds movies, a great annoying neighbor on "Married with Children," sure, but he never made me believe he was the emotionally tortured, driven action hero Daybreak called for him to be.
I also liked how Dillon gets a past-due notice from the Virginia Water and Power Company addressed to him in Los Angeles. That's some attention to detail, folks!
Though there were indications of a commentary track and other content when Daybreak was first announced, none made it to the final disc. The only extra content is a collection of bio/filmographies for the director and several cast members, a lousy ten picture still gallery (why bother?), and the trailer.
Who's Paramount trying to kid? You might get away with a $30 list for a bare-bones edition of a well-known film, but who in their right mind is going to plop down that much of their hard-earned cash for a B-Minus disaster flick that only the cast and crew have ever heard of? Rent it if you like, or if you have a bad movie night with your friends, by all means try out Daybreak, just don't expect too much.
It looks okay, it sounds quite nice, it tries…and fails. Sorry. Guilty as charged!
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