Netflix’s ‘Day Shift’ Wastes Jamie Foxx in an Action Comedy That Doesn’t Need Vampires
As fun as it is to watch from an ultraviolent horror perspective, “Day Shift” is a cookie-cutter action movie where vampires lock and load, and Jamie Foxx might as well be an undercover cop. He plays Bud Jablonski, a Los Angeles vampire hunter whose cover story is cleaning swimming pools in the San Fernando Valley. He’s got all the same problems as you’d find in a cop procedural: bills to pay, an 8-year-old daughter, Paige (Zion Broadnax), to raise, and an ex-wife, played by Meagan Good, who is halfway out the door on her way to the sunshine state.
By chance, Bud is one of the few vampire hunters who works when the sun is out, and takes the gig for its dental plan. Directed by J.J. Perry, “Day Shift” doubles as a workplace comedy, where HR is always breathing down its workers’ necks, while their job is to clean up creatures who prefer to bite those necks. Their payoff, however, is entirely unethical. The vampire hunter union pays cash money for vampire fangs, which really is no different than killing an elephant for its tusk, and selling it for the ivory.
The high point of the workplace comedy comes from the first day on the job of the union rep called in to oversee Bud on his probationary work. For Seth, the rookie field officer, accustomed to desk work, Dave Franco conjures the spirit of Gene Wilder in Mel Brooks’ original film, “The Producers.” Instead of a blankie, he has a rule book.
Foxx bends a little into the Zero Mostel character from the Brooks’ film. Bud finds this new guy with the manual memorized annoying, but remains calming, encouraging, and corruptive. It doesn’t go as far as “Training Day,” but the illicit trade is sunscreen, and only hitting the street. Foxx is a versatile, Academy Award-winning actor, who excels in drama but made his bones doing standup. He has the good guy hero patter down, but it’s hard to hear over the automatic weapons and garlic grenades.
Bud is one of the first leading roles for Foxx since 2012’s “Django Unchained,” and the film only occasionally dips into self-referential humor. The line “We’re like partners, Crockett and Tubbs,” references Foxx’s character in the 2006 “Miami Vice” movie. It isn’t a tribute paid in full. Bud is mercenary about vampire killing, his mentor, the legend Big John Elliott (Snoop Dogg), does it for personal reasons. It apparently gets him laid. He probably doesn’t even have a problem with vampires, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see one of the writhing, dying, bloodsuckers hand gesture “call me” on their way out.
The mythology of “Day Shift” collates vampires into five types: Southern, Eastern, Spider, Uber, and Juvenile. They can be killed with a gunshot blast through the heart, Bud prefers African hardwood, or by cutting their heads off with silver. Friendly vampires, like former vampire hunters who accidentally get turned into ravenous beasts, can reverse decapitation by putting the head back on, so long as it is done in L.A. traffic when the potholes are less noticeable.
The action effects, overall, are top notch, as in most procedurals. Every camera trick, car crash, body slam, and reload is used beyond excess. Director Perry is a veteran stuntman who employs enough stunt drivers for three “Fast and Furious” movies, and as many hand-to-hand combat experts as a “John Wick” film. Not that they need them. The vampire hunters come on like SWAT teams, armed to the teeth. The vampire teeth, however, leave a lot to be desired. For a movie about vampires, which makes such a big show over the importance of fangs, the enamel work looks like it came from a Halloween store in the off-season.
The primary villain, an Uber vampire buying up all the best real estate in the San Fernando Valley, Audrey (Karla Souza), offers the only semblance of a vampiric temperament. Her description of the tastes and hungers sharpened canines bring to the experience of being a vampire should have been utilized for better effect than as a gentrification agent. The whole film could have ended on a much happier note if Bud sold his property to Audrey, paid for his daughter’s tuition and braces, and moved to Florida. He could have left it to Seth, to handle apologies, as that is what the character does for most of the film.
Minor characters like the nurse turned vampire turncoat, Heather (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), and morally bankrupt but loyal to the death pawn shop owner, Troy (Peter Stormare), could have been fleshed out more. The vampires themselves are a very nimble lot, contorting themselves like they’re climbing out of the well in “The Ring” as they amble about. There are a few interesting tricks to look for, like fight scenes where the vampires cast no reflections in mirrors. But they are no more frightening than a drug cartel. Netflix is adept at action, but clueless about horror. The classic West coast gangsta soundtrack, including Ice Cube and 2Pac, propels the motion fiercely, but could have been a score for any genre film.
“Day Shift” doesn’t break any new ground, and can barely be considered a vampire film. The story is predictable and we never worry about the characters. There is never really a viable threat to them. The script, by Shay Hatten and Tyler Tice, is a threadbare map outlining a path between action sequences. For all the blood in the film, not a drop is used to feed the vampires.
“Day Shift” begins streaming Aug. 12 on Netflix.