With its likable cast, unique vampire mythology, hard-hitting action scenes, and $100 million dollar budget, Netflix’s DAY SHIFT should have been a home run. So why isn’t it?
The story starts out promisingly enough: Bud, played with undisguised relish by Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx, is a blue-collar vampire hunter who is down on his luck. Despite being the best in the business (as demonstrated in the gleefully violent, cleverly choreographed, and genuinely thrilling opening sequence), his unconventional methods have gotten him kicked out of the Hunter’s Union. Consequently, he is unable to sell the vampire teeth he extracts— highly prized trophies, apparently— except on the low-paying and shady black market. And because Bud has fallen behind on his financial responsibilities, his long-suffering wife threatens to take their daughter away from him by moving to another state. Desperate for cash, he begs to be let back in the Union, where he is forced to partner with the fastidious and by-the-book Seth (a likably goofy James Franco), a bureaucrat unsuited to the rough-and-tumble world of vampire hunting. Together with Big John (a badass Snoop Dogg), and with some help from sources both likely and unlikely, they take down the growing vampire cartel led by the sinister and bloodthirsty Audrey San Fernando (How To Get Away With Murder’s Karla Souza, also doing solid work here).
Sounds cool, right? Well, it would be… if nearly every aspect of this film weren’t so woefully underdeveloped. The characters are thinly drawn, and often do things that are not just implausible, but also inconsistent with normal human behavior. The dialogue, while quippy and light, is only occasionally funny and often downright bad. And the rap-heavy soundtrack is so obnoxious and in-your-face it threatens to overpower the entire film. (There is some fun to be had, to be sure, in the numerous references to the 1987 film THE LOST BOYS, including the very last line of the current film; but since the line doesn’t completely make sense, and since it just makes you wish you were watching THE LOST BOYS instead, I’m not sure this belongs in the “plus” column.)
To be fair, some of DAY SHIFT’s elements do work— but sadly, only up to a point. The expansive mythology the film exuberantly sets up— Vampire hierarchies! Killer contortionists! Vampire hunters masquerading as stereo repairmen! Forensic dentistry!— fails to hold up to even casual scrutiny. So much of the plot is left unexplained, and not in a good way: In a city apparently overrun with vampires, for example, why are their teeth so rare and valuable? How are people able to identify these undead creatures so quickly when they look just like regular people, especially when they’re using a special sunscreen that lets them walk around in daylight? Why are there “good’ and “bad” vampires, and what does that mean for the other characters in the movie? Why don’t some vampires die when decapitated? And how much of a secret can this secret union be when its members are constantly firing automatic weapons and setting off grenades in residential neighborhoods in broad daylight?
Despite these numerous cinematic flaws, there is one thing DAY SHIFT does exceptionally well: the action scenes. Visceral, hard-hitting, and gleefully violent, the impressive CGI-free (or only partially CGI-enhanced) fight and chase scenes are tremendous fun, and a true testament to the background of stuntman-turned-stunt-coordinator-turned-director J.J. Perry. (Bonus points for his inclusion of action god Scott Adkins, who deserves more than the one scene he’s given here. Nazarian Brothers spinoff, anyone?)
All in all, a solid treat for action lovers— everyone else, maybe look elsewhere.
(3 out of 5 stars, one of which just for the fight scenes)
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