Lots of people are going to sit through Bright, a quite terrible new movie streaming on Netflix, over the holidays. They’ll watch it because it stars Will Smith in a buddy-cop movie overseen by the writer of Training Day. They’ll watch it because it has a lot of action — guns, knives, explosions, shootouts. They’ll watch it because it has a heavy fantasy element: In this alternative version of Los Angeles, humans coexist with fairies, elves, and orcs. And finally, they’ll watch it because it’s a big-budget feature film popping up on Netflix, so it’s an easy way to see a popcorn movie without having to leave the house. Still, that doesn’t make Bright much good.
Starring Smith as a human cop and Joel Edgerton as his partner, a cop who’s also an orc, Bright is about the search for a magic wand, which grants whoever possesses it great power. The wand can also explode in your face and the face of anyone around you when you hold it: “This is like a nuclear weapon that grants wishes,” as someone says. For much of its time, Bright is a very predictable cop movie; even its human-alien partnership isn’t new to anyone who remembers the 1988 movie Alien Nation, which starred James Caan as human law enforcement and Mandy Patinkin as the alien. In Bright, we’re supposed to feel for Edgerton’s Nick Jakoby, the LAPD’s first orc police officer, who is subjected to prejudicial slurs by most of his human colleagues and is viewed as a traitor to his race by fellow orcs, most of whom seem to be in vicious gangs. Nick the orc and Smith’s Daryl Ward have an uneasy alliance — in the manner of all such buddy films, they start out as an unwilling couple, sniping and bantering, but by the end, you know they’ll always have each other’s back.
The Bright script by Max Landis is overloaded with jargon and contrived setups. Smith’s Ward hates elves because most of them are wealthy and arrogant — the 1 percent with pointy ears. There are also “renegade elves” called the Inferni. There are two elf sisters (Noomi Rapace and Lucy Fry) who are trying to summon “the Dark Lord.” At the start of the movie, Ward swats at and kills a fairy that’s been buzzing around his front yard. Squashing its human-with-wings-looking body like a mosquito, Smith is required to utter the line, “Fairy lives don’t matter today.” The movie strains for some sort of symbolic subtext about race relations that is so crude, it’s probably best not to try to bring it to the surface of the film.
One feels bad for Smith, who looks weary beyond what his character feels; it’s as though he finds it exhausting to deliver the trite hard-boiled dialogue. David Ayer has directed the film with all the busy noise he brought to Suicide Squad. Really, the only thing Bright has going for it as a commercial enterprise is that it’s an expensive-looking Netflix movie. Along about New Year’s Eve, you’ll probably be so eager to get away from your relatives that you may be tempted to let your eyes wander over to Bright on your Netflix homepage. Trust me: Watch Godless instead.
Bright is streaming now on Netflix.
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