Wednesday, April 23, 2014



I've settled back in at Chateau Maine after my whirlwind jaunt to New York. I'm feeling much better about the progress being made on my new musical extravaganza, Mother Teresa: The Musical and can return to rehearsals with a much lighter heart. Most of the big ensemble numbers are coming together quite nicely, especially the fashion parade that ends Act I where Mother Teresa reviews the models in the Paris atelier looking at all the different options for habits, trying to find the one that will most speak to her calling. We did eventually settle on the traditional blue and white tea towel thing, but I'm having Bob Mackie tastefully update it with some iridescent fabrics.

Meanwhile, Madame Arcati, the medium who is helping me with Norman's poltergeist proclivities, seems to have moved bag, baggage and crystal ball into one of the guest suites. It seems she needs to get a better feeling for the auras of the house. She also seems to have a humongous appetite and the grocery bill has doubled. She's busy making plans for a séance which she says will settle things down. I certainly hope so. This morning, I caught Norman floating around the veranda juggling some Faberge trinkets I brought back from a tour of St. Petersburg a few years back and barely caught an exquisite enameled butterfly before it put a hole in the dining room window. When I reproached him and asked him to be more careful, he went into a sulk and poured a whole bottle of Liquid Plumr into the washing machine. The housekeeper will be furious.

Having spent an hour with the disaster of leaky hoses, I decided I was definitely in the mood for an old fashioned disaster film. I settled into the home theater and began to channel surf when I ran across Daylight, a Sylvester Stallone entry in the genre from 1996. I recalled it being a disaster in more ways than one so decided it just might be the ticket to distract me from domestic disturbances.

Daylight, as a film, is a cross between the much superior The Poseidon Adventure and the Universal Studios' Earthquake attraction in which the tram appears to be caught in a collapsing San Francisco subway station. Doubtless some producer and his latest mistress were on it one day and the germ of a film was born. To fit Sylvester Stallone, however, the setting is New York City. Stallone plays Kit Latura, the disgraced head of the city's emergency services unit (he made a wrong decision in a building collapse some months before leading to some deaths) and he's now making his living as a limo driver. The opening fifteen minutes of the film introduce him and a group of disparate New Yorkers in perfunctory fashion. There's the plucky, but failing playwright desperate to get out of the NYC rat race (Amy Brenneman), the somewhat silly older couple who dote on their dog (Claire Bloom and Colin Fox), a rugged businessman (Viggo Mortensen), the family on vacation (Jay O. Sanders, Karen Young and Danielle Harris), a group of juvenile offenders on their way to prison (Renoly Santiago, Sage Stallone, Trina McGee-Davis, Marcello Thedford) and the traffic cop who's finally found a lady love (Stan Shaw).

Through various plot contrivances, all of them find their way into the tunnel to New Jersey one evening just as a trio of idiot jewel thieves try to make their getaway by violating every bit of common sense and smash into a cargo of highly explosive yellow plastic drums. There are explosions, fires, floods, rogue electric lines and other dangers awaiting them as our heroes try to escape from the catastrophe. Kit is caught outside the tunnel, recognizes there are people entombed and becomes a one man rescue squad, going in to get them out in order to atone for his previous sins. (This is about as much psychological development as the screenplay goes for and rather more than Stallone, the actor can handle.) Once Kit gets in and meets up with the dozen survivors (plus dog) it's the usual game of who's going to live and who's going to die as they struggle out of a collapsing, burning tunnel that's fast filling up with the Hudson river.

The film is all about special effects and a work out for Stallone's stunt double, as the character changes size and shape from close-up to long shot. Stallone, never the most expressive of actors, chooses to play Latura by grimacing and writhing in front of a green screen as if he's having a particularly bad bout of constipation. But then again, Leslie Bohem's strictly formula screenplay doesn't really give him much to work with. None of the survivor characters is given much besides an easily identifiable personality quirk and despite some fine actors in the ensemble (Mortensen, Bloom, Brenneman), they have little to do other than battle against disaster movie plot contrivances. The script falls into most of the usual cliché moments meaning it's pretty easy to figure out who's going to survive and who's going to have a heroic death, the only really dramatic moment being the groups need to abandon one who has broken his back.

The good disaster movie recognizes that there must be a balance between the battle and the intimate stories of its characters. If we don't care about these people and who lives and dies, there's no point to the film. Frankly, I could have cared less about any of these cardboard cutouts. Director Rob Cohen (XXXThe Fast and the Furious) is much more interested in his sets and his effects than in his people so ultimately, the exercise becomes a documentary in movie pyrotechnics, rather than a watchable film. It's also edited in such a way that scenes tend to lose tension and you yearn for them to be over so our plucky survivors can face the next obstacle, rather than tightened for an increasing level of suspense.

Ultimately, the film becomes a not unpleasant time waster, but hardly something to seek out unless one is a Stallone completist or has a yen for Mortensen's chiseled features.

Diamond heist. Rat in underwear. Nepotistic casting. Gratuitous villain pancaking. Airhose breathing. Underwater swimming. Amateur videography. Gratuitous impalement. Literal dog paddle.

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