Day Shift Review: Jamie Foxx’s Vampire Hunter Movie Boasts Great Fight Scenes and Formulaic Comedic Beats

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The Pitch: Bud Jablonski (Jamie Foxx) is a San Fernando Valley pool cleaner, but his mundane job is a cover for other, more exciting work. Casing the house next door while skimming a pool, he puts on a ski mask, loads up on weapons, and storms inside. The resident, a frightened old woman, asks “Who are you? What are you doing in my room?” Without answering, Bud blasts away at her with a shotgun. The woman, revealing herself as a vampire and baring her fangs, stands up with a gaping hole in her torso, and begins fighting back.

Day Shift is the directorial debut of J.J. Perry, a veteran stuntman who played Scorpion and other masked fighters in 1997’s Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, and choreographed the intense fight scenes in Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire. And the scene that opens the vampire hunter movie Day Shift lives up to Perry’s pedigree with kinetic action and cartoonish gore that, at moments, resembles Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films more than a contemporary shoot-‘em-up flick. The vampires in Day Shift even contort their limbs in unnatural positions that recall The Exorcist, lending some creepy novelty to otherwise fairly pedestrian creature feature visuals.

High Stakes: Netflix has focused a lot of its energy in recent years on making splashy action movies with nine-figure budgets in search of something that feels like an old-fashioned summer blockbuster, minus a wide theatrical release: Bright, Extraction, The Gray Man, the list goes on and on. Netflix trumpets big viewership numbers for these movies, but they never seem to leave the kind of Independence Day-level cultural footprint they’re aiming for. Somehow, these popcorn movies rarely hit the same without a nearby lobby where you can buy an actual bucket of popcorn.

As a point in its favor, Day Shift’s screenplay was co-written by Shay Hatten, who also co-wrote Zack Snyder’s zombie heist movie Army of the Dead, one of Netflix’s few genuinely entertaining action blowouts. And Jamie Foxx is one of Hollywood’s most versatile talents: an Oscar-winning actor, a hilarious standup comic, and a chart-topping singer. But even Foxx can’t singlehandedly save a weak movie, and he came up empty before with a Netflix action movie, 2020’s so-so sci-fi saga Project Power.

Fortunately, Jamie Foxx doesn’t have to carry Day Shift all by himself. Karla Souza is a memorable villain as Audrey, a successful L.A. realtor whose penchant for brightly colored pantsuits masks her secret identity as a powerful elderly vampire. Bud has a charming meet cute with his nurse neighbor Heather (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), who eventually gets to kick some ass in the climactic action. And veteran scene stealer Peter Stormare makes some brief, funny appearances as Troy, a sleazer pawn shop clerk in a tracksuit who compensates Bud for his kills.

Bite Marks: The vampire genre, or for that matter the vampire hunter subgenre, is such a crowded field that it’s hard for Day Shift to do anything that hasn’t been done before. Bud isn’t as iconically badass as Blade, the Black vampire hunter from Marvel Comics that was portrayed by Wesley Snipes in the hit film trilogy, and will be played by Mahershala Ali in an upcoming reboot.

But Foxx’s character also isn’t as funny as Jefferson Twilight, the Blade parody “Blacula hunter” in the Adult Swim series The Venture Bros. He’s mostly a stoic everyman, working hard to provide for his young daughter Paige (Zion Broadnax), which feels a little like a waste of Foxx’s oversized talent and charisma.

Day Shift Review Jamie Foxx
Day Shift Review Jamie Foxx

Day Shift (Netflix)

In order to pay some urgent family expenses, Bud needs to rejoin the vampire hunter union from which he was already expelled once for breaking its strict rules. But they require Bud to work by-the-book, accompanied by union rep Seth (Dave Franco), an anxious, bespectacled office worker. And from the moment Franco shows up as a nerdy foil for the cool, Hawaiian shirt-wearing Bud, everything proceeds to follow a predictable, gratingly self-aware buddy cop movie formula. At one point, Franco says, “We’re like partners, Crockett and Tubbs” (Foxx, of course, played Tubbs in the 2006 Miami Vice feature).

Day Shift takes place in a world where the existence of vampires is a closely guarded secret among a select few. But it’s also, as revealed in one of the funnier scenes, a world where movies like Twilight and Interview with the Vampire still exist as popular entertainment, enjoyed even by people like Bud and Seth, who have to deal with real vampires.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether Day Shift is deliberately riffing on familiar pop culture tropes, or isn’t completely aware of how derivative it is. There’s a chase scene with motorcycles and trucks in a ravine that can’t help but bring to mind a similarly staged scene in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The sunny California backdrop is accompanied with a perfect soundtrack of West coast gangsta rap classics by 2Pac and Ice Cube, but their peer Snoop Dogg also has a small yet entertaining role as the cowboy hat-wearing vampire hunter Big John.

The Verdict: Day Shift is one of Netflix’s better action flicks, even if that’s faint praise given the streamer’s weak track record. Perry’s action scenes are fast-paced, with inventive flourishes like the moments where combatants pass a mirror and the vampires’ reflections can’t be seen.

But the comic relief is hit-and-miss. Dave Franco, younger brother of James, has carved out a solid career as the sibling of a major star who’s found his own comedic niche. But his stock sidekick character is more irritating than funny — by the time Seth wets his pants for the second time, it feels like the movie would’ve been better off without him.

In lesser hands, Day Shift could’ve been a dud. But Jamie Foxx is having enough fun as the “pool boy” vampire hunter, one of his first heroic leading man roles since 2012’s Django Unchained, that it’s easy to get caught up in the fairly predictable story.

And Perry’s directorial style refreshingly has less to do with gratuitous CGI than it does with cleverly staged combat, including an epic battle in a bowling alley. At a time when fight choreography is the weak link in many of the biggest action movies, Perry probably deserves a shot at helming a major franchise.

Where to Watch: Clock in for Day Shift when it starts streaming on Netflix August 12th.

Trailer: 

Day Shift Review: Jamie Foxx’s Vampire Hunter Movie Boasts Great Fight Scenes and Formulaic Comedic Beats
Al Shipley

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