Bud Jablonski (Jamie Foxx) has a problem. His estranged wife and daughter are tired of his unreliability and are thinking of moving away. Bud needs to find a better way to support them, but his business isn’t what it used to be. Bud appears to be an average pool-cleaner, but his real job is far less average: he’s a professional vampire hunter and after being thrown out of the local union for his extreme methods, he’s found it harder to get by. Managing to convince hunting legend Big John (Snoop Dogg) to vouch for him, Jablonski is given a by-the-book partner who is ready to quote every rule in the book and expel him if he doesn’t keep in line.
But Jablonski’s latest kill has a personal connection to a Vampire queen who manages the area’s real estate empire and is on the edge of supplying a sunscreen that will allow vamps out into the open… She’s used to getting what she wants and now she wants Bud dead…
In recent years Netflix has made a name for itself as the home of some top-notch quality, genre entertainment and a major player on the streaming-platform marketplace. But while its shows (Stranger Things, The Sandman etc) have garnered largely positive reviews, its ‘original movie’ stable has divided critics. Look to a long list of films starring significant A-List talent and high-concept ideas (Extinction starring Michael Pena and Lizzy Caplan, Outside the Wire with Anthony Mackie, Bright with Will Smith and The Adam Project with Ryan Reynolds) and the results have been middling… the kind of experience that get a ‘Well, that was perfectly okay…‘ result rather than a sky-punching, hitting it out of the ballpark reaction you might have expected. Day Shift fits neatly into that category, a movie that’s a solidly-made diversion with a list of ingredients that should make it a powerhouse but one that just misses the bullseye it could have achieved. Here it seems primed to attract the Zombieland audience but ultimately settles for a better-lit version of Blade mixed with the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie which might not be the level originally intended but is hardly a failure either.
Foxx (who also starred in Netflix‘s mid-range Project Power) is an established, big-screen presence and is more than capable of handling the physical action and the banter needed for the Jablonski role. The film’s conceit is that he may look like a lowly pool-cleaner, but his particular set of skills lean more in the direction of vamp-killing, a profession which somehow seems to have no shortage of competition in sunny San Fernando Valley. The pool-cleaning aspect is treated as throwaway lip-service and a short-lived framing device, forgotten within a few scenes and it would have been nice to establish that cover-story a bit better – examining the way that the blood-sucking nature of the LA underworld is both common-knowledge for specialist bounty-hunters yet somehow still a mystery to the general populace (something the film wants both ways). Jablonksi balances it and hides it from his estranged family, but we generally have to accept that his ex (Jocelyn (Meagan Good) and daughter Paige (Zion Broadnax) are being kept in the dark and try to tolerate his absences as they consider moving away because of his unreliability. In the end, though, they end up merely being the requisite hostages/bait for the climax of the film.
The vamp-hunting industry is highly unionised and regulated, a system that has little time for Jablonski’s scattershot, high-property-damage methods. Jablonski needs to get back into their good graces because of the money needed to keep his family in LA. It would have been fun to further examine a more bargain-basement Men in Black-like operation but once they are set up as the oppressive force working against his success, they are also pushed into a corner in favour of the main action. The film is marketed on the names of Foxx and Snoop Dogg, though the latter as legendary hunter ‘Big John’ doesn’t actually feature as prominently as suggested, more of a book-ender name to blood-draw in the crowds. Foxx’s main sidekick is actually Dave Franco as rule-quoting Seth, brought in by Union management to list Jablonski’s failings and finally expel him from the organisation once and for all. Needless to say, his experiences on the street somewhat change’s Seth’s loyalties. His eventual ‘fate’ might be somewhat pre-ordained though some of the rather thin story-logic goes out of the window to sustain his presence throughout. There’s also a scattering of other ‘names’ around, the ever-reliable Peter Stormare plays a bargain-basement fang-dealer and Australian actor Natasha Liu Bordizzo (soon to be seen in Star Wars series Ahsoka) is a more sympathetic distraction.
Karla Souza is okay as Audrey San Fernando, the main villain of the piece, ultimately being the Stephen Dorff of the story – the sneering power-grabbing real-estate vamp with little loyalty to her own kind as long as she wins… though one can’t help feeling the character could have been far more than the rather forgettable cookie-cutter bite-queen that ultimately makes the cut.
The real strength of the film is in the high (perhaps too high) priority it gives to its action-sequences – which really shouldn’t come as a surprise given that the director is former stuntman J JPerry (who shared in the Male Stuntman of the Year Award at the 2004 World Stunt Awards, has trained actors such as Gina Carano, Gerard Butler, Milla Jovovich, Hugh Jackman and Kiefer Sutherland, doubled for David Boreanaz on Angel and been behind the scenes on films like John Wick to name but a few of his achievements). This may be his first feature as director, but he makes the most of his other credentials to date. The various confrontations in the film are a fast, kinetic and ambitious mix, helped by good VFX and the amazing flexibility of the stunt-performers. (If the Mutant Enemy series were known for its vamps becoming ridiculously good martial-artists, Day Shift‘s are apparently instant contortionists). In the end, though, the neck-puncturing story takes something of a backseat to the punch and kick punctuation and there are a few scenes that feel more like a showreel for the performers than actual organic story beats. Top-notch martial-artist Scott Adkins and Shameless’ Steve Howey are brought in as the Nazarian Brothers, a rival vamp-hunting duo, stealing some of the action spotlight and very much feeling like Perry wants them in their own movie, which might be no bad thing as another guilty pleasure. Again, if you know that going in, you’re not going to be disappointed.
Neither a franchise-starter nor a career-ender, Day Shift brings a perfectly fine, diverting 90 minutes of fun, delivering an impressive showcase in its action department, but frustratingly missing the clear opportunity to go deeper and target a whole vein of satirical targets it could have perfectly skewered along the way…
Day Shiftis now streaming on Netflix…
- Action Choreography9
- Production Design / VFX8