"Daylight" is a lower-echelon disaster thriller, in which the best character is knocked off early on and the leading man runs out of ideas with a third of the picture still to go. Noisy, technically proficient actioner about a group of people trapped in the Holland Tunnel after an explosion gets off a few decent blasts, but is just too limited in scope, imagination and excitement to burst out as a major B.O. winner domestically.

“Daylight” is a lower-echelon disaster thriller, in which the best character is knocked off early on and the leading man runs out of ideas with a third of the picture still to go. Noisy, technically proficient actioner about a group of people trapped in the Holland Tunnel after an explosion gets off a few decent blasts, but is just too limited in scope, imagination and excitement to burst out as a major B.O. winner domestically. Offshore returns should be better.

Universal’s only year-end release is a claustrophobic yarn toplining Sylvester Stallone in a familiar working-class hero role, a take-charge guy who happens to be in the right place at the right time to attempt a rescue of a carefully selected cross-section of contempo New Yawkers. Unfortunately, these characters, who spend too much of their time alternately whining and arguing, are mostly a drag to be around, making their fates a matter of relative indifference.

Leslie Bohem’s script spends a few minutes sketching in the various people it intends to bring calamitously together: There’s neurotic aspiring writer Madelyne (Amy Brenneman); good-natured cop George Tyrell (Stan Shaw); the dysfunctional Crighton family (Jay O. Sanders, Karen Young, Danielle Harris); dashing, egotistical sporting-goods tycoon Roy Nord (Viggo Mortensen); upper-class society doyenne Eleanor Trilling (Claire Bloom) and her husband, Roger (Colin Fox), and several teenage prisoners being transported in a police van.

When some reckless punks crash into chemical-laden trucks inside the tunnel at rush hour, a massive explosion ensues that sends waves of flames roaring through the hole in the ground, killing many and closing the tube at both ends. Stuck just outside the entrance on the Manhattan side is Kit Latura (Stallone), a former Emergency Medical Services chief who knows the tunnel inside out but left the force after a misjudgment caused the deaths of some men.

Still, Kit is sure he knows what’s best and soon bullies his way into a command position. In the film’s best sequence, one that should have been truly great but isn’t quite, Kit is lowered into the tunnel through a succession of giant vent fans that can be turned off only for a matter of seconds at a time.

Another man who feels he knows how to deal with the crisis is Roy Nord, who just happens to have mountain-climbing gear in his vehicle. Telling the others to stay put, Roy confidently undertakes some precision climbing through the rubble toward the surface, but his hubris does him in. This is unfortunate, because Mortensen makes him the most charismatic figure in the picture, one who could have significantly enlivened the proceedings with his ego and audacity.

Roy’s demise leaves the party at a loss until Sly arrives. Further peril confronts the group in the form of leaking water, city workers who prepare to blow the tunnel open and a flotilla of rats, and some of the endangered citizens expire along the way. Things really slow down when Kit actually admits he hasn’t a clue what to do next (nothing for an action hero to admit), although when he does have an idea, he always seems to have all the equipment and explosives needed for the job at hand.

After a while, the further barriers to freedom faced by the group seem like contrivances cooked up in desperation by the filmmakers. Story lacks a villain, and therefore someone to root against — aside from some very minor callous city officials — and Stallone’s stunts and heroics here pale in comparison to his physical feats in his last good action outing, “Cliffhanger.” Although there are some fine thesps assembled here, pic is not, to say the least, an actor’s piece.

Helmer Rob Cohen seems to have taken more than a passing interest in the story’s inherent theme that, in such a situation, individual effort is not enough, that even the most diverse people must work together. At the same time, however, he doesn’t really show the chops for heavy, convulsive action; after this and “Dragonheart” in the same year, it might be fair to conclude that he may be miscast as a director of large-scale pictures that depend upon visceral effect.

Pic features plenty of big explosions and close calls, but nothing that will blow audiences away. Technical contributions are elaborate, but tight, dark quarters in which most of the story unfolds give the enterprise a squeezed, somewhat dingy feel.

Daylight

Production

A Universal release of a Davis Entertainment/Joseph M. Singer production. Produced by John Davis, Singer, David T. Friendly. Executive producer, Raffaella De Laurentiis. Co-executive producer, Paul Neesan. Co-producers, Hester Hargett, Herbert W. Gains. Directed by Rob Cohen. Screenplay, Leslie Bohem.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color), David Eggby; editor, Peter Amundson; music, Randy Edelman; production design, Benjamin Fernandez; supervising art director, Pierluigi Basile; art direction, Maria Teresa Barbasso, Mark Zuelzke, Marco Trentini; supervising set decorator, Giorgio Desideri; set decoration, Alberto Tosto; costume design, Thomas Casterline, Isis Mussenden; sound (DTS), Reinhard Stergar; special effects supervisor, Kit West; visual effects supervisor, Scott Farrar; co-visual effects supervisor, Joe Letteri; special visual effects, Industrial Light & Magic; stunt coordinator, Paul Weston; associate producer, Tony Munafo; assistant director, Herbert W. Gains; second unit director/camera/underwater camera, Buzz Feitshans IV; casting, Margery Simkin. Reviewed at Universal Studios, Universal City, Nov. 18, 1996. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 115 MIN.

With

Kit Latura - Sylvester Stallone
Madelyne Thompson - Amy Brenneman
Roy Nord - Viggo Mortensen
Frank Kraft - Dan Hedaya
Steve Crighton - Jay O. Sanders
Sarah Crighton - Karen Young
Eleanor Trilling - Claire Bloom
Grace - Vanessa Bell Calloway
Mikey - Renoly Santiago
Roger Trilling - Colin Fox
Ashley Crighton - Danielle Harris
Latonya - Trina McGee-Davis
Kadeem - Marcello Thedford
Vincent - Sage Stallone
Boom - Jo Anderson
Chief Dennis Wilson - Mark Rolston
Ms. London - Rosemary Forsyth
Gem Dealer - Luoyong Wang
Norman Basset - Barry Newman
George Tyrell - Stan Shaw
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