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Underrated Gem: Daylight (1996)

Plot: A group of armed robbers fleeing the police head for the New Jersey Tunnel and run right into trucks transporting toxic waste. The spectacular explosion that follows results in both ends of the tunnel collapsing and the handful of people who survived the explosion are now in peril. Kit Latura is the only man with the skill and knowledge to lead the band of survivors out of the tunnel before the structure collapses.

I remember when Daylight came out back in 1996 Sylvester Stallone said it would be his final action movie but we all know legends never quit and here we are 23 years later after The Expendables trilogy, Escape Plan Movies, Bullet to the Head, Creed and an upcoming Fifth Rambo movie. Never stop, Sly, never stop.

Daylight is largely forgotten and wasn’t met with great reviews when it came out sitting at 25% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes but I’ve always had a soft spot for this movie.

I watched it for the first time in a few years last night and for the most part it still holds up extremely well. I’ve always loved disaster movies and Daylight has all the clichés but it works because of Stallone’s selfless hero (the awesomely named) Kit Latura. He is not only trying to save people trapped in a tunnel after it explodes but to also find redemption for past failures. He sort of feels like Cliffhanger’s Gabe Walker who also had a similar heroes’ journey.

Kit is incredibly patient with people who are all panicking and shouting at him but he never loses his cool and comes across as believable and someone who has dealt with this kind of situation before. Because of his guilt Sly as always makes Kit a loveable underdog and we know he won’t give up until he gets everybody out.

I forgot Viggo Mortensen was in this; it’s a smaller role but his character Roy Nord is ego driven and you know he is doomed from the start. Despite his flaws you still like him as it’s Viggo and he can make any character sympathetic.

A young Danielle Harris (The Halloween sequels) gets to cry a lot and her parents are annoying but they also have their own arcs so by the climax we are rooting for them too.

It’s sad to see Sage Stallone and know that he isn’t around anymore as I liked him on screen.

Most of the other characters are disaster flick stereotypes like the nice old couple you know are soon to be dead, the dog that will definitely survive and the cop George who has something he wants to say to his wife tonight… oh George, didn’t you know? As soon as you said that it was the chilling sound of your doom.

Several people live who really should have died as they were somewhat irritating but by the time the end credits roll I was emotionally engaged and felt like I had been going through the nightmare with them.

The set-pieces are still impressive with lots of real explosions, water flowing everywhere with rats pouring out and it’s all done practically so there’s a palpable sense of scale, tension and claustrophobia.

I love the opening credits the way the camera moves through the tunnel just building up to the inevitable explosion and then you have the way all the characters are introduced quickly but effectively so you get an idea of the types of people they are while never losing any of the pacing. The city of New York almost feels like a living, breathing character itself and it shows its personality in some of the one-liners and dry wit.

Randy Edelman’s score is one of his more underappreciated as it has a memorable theme tune which will be stuck in your head after viewing.

After all these years Daylight is worth digging out and re-evaluating as it really is a slick and effective disaster movie with Sly on fine form and no shortage of action. It may be clichéd and doesn’t have fight scenes or shoot outs but it’s never dull and always thrilling.