Bud Jablonski (Jamie Foxx) works as a freelance vampire-hunter in the San Fernando Valley. When his estranged wife (Meagan Good) demands money for their daughter’s braces, he is forced to team up with union rep Seth (Dave Franco) to earn the big bucks.
When you think “vampire-hunter”, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Depending on your vintage, it might be Van Helsing, Blade, Buffy, or, erm, Abraham Lincoln. This latest Netflix entry hopes to add a Los Angeles pool-cleaner to that storied company; while it’s unlikely to add more than a footnote to the legacy of Bram Stoker, it’s a likeable enough addition to the garlic-and-wooden-stakes canon.
As it turns out, rather than attempting to ape blood-sucking staples, the elevator pitch for Day Shift seems to have been: “Men In Black, but with vampires.” This is an action-comedy very much in the mould of Barry Sonnenfeld’s seminal 1997 sci-fi: a secret bureaucratic society policing fantasy creatures; a wise-cracking tone with effects-heavy action; and a rookie-versus-old-timer buddy dynamic.
Here, Jamie Foxx is in the Tommy Lee Jones role, playing Bud, an experienced old hat who doesn’t always play by the rules. He’s essentially a working stiff, given a deadline by his ex-wife: three days to earn ten grand for tuition and dental braces, or she and their daughter move to Florida. As vampire fangs are his main source of income, he’s forced to go legit, teaming up with Dave Franco’s squeamishly uptight, pescatarian desk-jockey Seth. It’s hardly a dynamic we’ve never seen before — something even the filmmakers realise, making a sly nod to Foxx’s previous buddy-movie experience in Miami Vice — but the two actors at least share an easy chemistry. If few of the jokes land especially hard — this is not exactly a comedy to guffaw at — at least the actors we’re watching are comfortably charismatic.
“full of kinetic camerawork, acrobatic stunts and inventive kills”
Where it excels, however, is the action. This is the directorial debut of J. J. Perry, the latest stuntman from the 87eleven stable to cross over into directing, and his experience with wirework and practical effects pays dividends here, the film full of kinetic camerawork, acrobatic stunts and inventive kills. It opens with a physics-defying fight with a sweet old lady who turns out to be an important demon, and keeps the pace up — one fight achieves Arnold Schwarzenegger’s long-held dream for Commando of ripping a man’s arm off and then beating him to death with it. Another sees a ludicrously elaborate gun-reload sequence, deftly executed by Sutton Coldfield’s finest, Scott Adkins. Also, Snoop Dogg shows up at one point, dressed as a cowboy, firing a chain gun named ‘Big Bertha’ — all while smoking a massive doobie.
It’s a lot of mildly-guilty-pleasure fun. And even if the script can’t quite compete with the action on screen, it at least manages to pepper in some worldbuilding — there are apparently five species of vampires: Southern, Easter, Spider, Uber and Juvenile, all served by human Familiars. There are also some ingenious weaponry with which to fight them (garlic grenades, anyone?). The filmmaking can sometimes feel first-base (the opening sequence, introducing California’s San Fernando Valley, features palm trees and oversaturated skies, set to 2Pac’s ‘California Love’ — as obvious as choices come). But when it pops, Day Shift has some sharp teeth on it.
The action is well-shot, and the buddy dynamic is fun. There’s plenty here that’s familiar, but it’s actually not a terrible way to spend a couple of hours with your Familiar.
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