Jamie Foxx’s Vampire-Slaying Pool Cleaner Is a Cry for Help

It’s easy to imagine first-time director J.J. Perry and screenwriters Tyler Tice and Shay Hatten in the pitch meeting for Day Shift, selling it as a Lethal Weapon riff with hungry vampires and John Wick ultra-violence. All of which is to say, there’s absolutely nothing novel about this Netflix B-movie (Aug. 12), whose lack of originality is only dwarfed by its failure to inject even a fleeting dose of humor into its wannabe-comedic horror carnage.

Headlined by Jamie Foxx, here stuck in one-note badass mode, Day Shift is set in a Los Angeles populated by both the living and the undead, although the former—despite knowing about vampires, as proven by references to the Twilight franchise—are completely unaware that the latter are in their midst. No matter that ignorance, bloodsuckers are lurking practically everywhere, nesting in abandoned bowling alleys and shopping malls and even walking around during the day courtesy of Audrey (Karla Souza). A star San Fernando Valley realtor and ancient “uber vamp,” Audrey is buying up the area’s properties in order to populate them with her minions, whom she’s also empowering with a heavy-duty lotion that lets them survive in the radiant sunshine. Alas, what goes into this protective balm is a mystery never revealed by the film, regardless of the fact that its entire narrative ostensibly hinges on its application.

Such screenwriting sketchiness is part and parcel of this mirthless affair, whose primary focus is Bud Jablonski (Foxx), an L.A. local introduced cleaning a filthy residential pool. Once his work is done, Bud exposes his true identity as a covert vampire-slayer on the hunt for fresh prey. He finds that in an elderly monster living in a nondescript house, resulting in the first of many prolonged tussles involving Bud’s trusty shotgun and handgun, plenty of highly choreographed hand-to-hand combat, and a bevy of limb-cracking, back-breaking maneuvers on the part of Bud’s supernatural adversary. Director Perry stages this mayhem with lucidity and muscularity if minimal verve; the entire thing comes across like a third-generation photocopy of multiple things Keanu Reeves and Wesley Snipes have done before, all of them blended up in a vain attempt to mask the spectacle’s derivativeness.

Bud makes a living selling his nocturnal targets’ fangs, which go for a nice price on the black market—personified by pawn-shop owner Troy (Peter Stormare)—and far more money through the Union, an official outfit that regulates the murder of vampires. The problem is, Bud was kicked out of the organization for ceaseless code violations. He is, in no uncertain terms, the type of defiant crime-fighter who refuses to play by the rules. Would you believe that he’s eventually allowed back into the Union thanks to the aid of his friend Big John (Snoop Dogg), where he’s yelled at for his habitual insubordination by a chief (Eric Lange) sitting behind a big office desk? And that he’s paired with a wimpy bureaucrat, Seth (Dave Franco), who’s ordered to keep tabs on him (as a way of kicking him out of the Union for good) but eventually transforms from narc to begrudging partner to BFF?

Stop me if you’ve seen this a thousand times before in slightly different garb. Day Shift amalgamates with glee, from Big John’s cowboy accoutrements (including an Eastwoodian cigar) to the soundtrack’s blend of hip-hop and country. There’s no real rhyme or reason to this mixing and matching; Perry simply throws whatever seems cool up on the screen, hoping to strike an entertaining spark. He rarely does. Day Shift proceeds in haphazard fashion, typified by the film having the criminally underutilized Stormare—a human cartoon if there ever was one—covet Bud’s pistol like it’s a legendary weapon, only to then forget to explain what makes it so special and drop the issue altogether. Audrey’s paper-thin scheme inspires similar head-scratching, since it’s never apparent why she needs to purchase suburban homes for a vampire takeover when the undead can just slaughter their inhabitants and seize them at will.

Day Shift cares more about eliciting thrills than dotting every “I” and crossing every “T,” but its Swiss cheese plotting does it no favors. Its characterizations aren’t much better. Bud’s main dilemma is that his estranged wife Jocelyn (Meagan Good) is going to relocate to Florida in a week with his beloved daughter Paige (Zion Broadnax) if he doesn’t come up with $10,000 in childcare expenses, thereby giving him urgent motivation to execute as many vampires as possible while simultaneously dealing with stool pigeon Seth. Unfortunately, this on-the-ropes situation doesn’t jibe with Bud’s status as a peerless and prolific killing machine, nor with his untouchable cockiness, which Foxx broadcasts via big glares, bigger smiles, and lots of slow-mo strutting. He’s the alpha of all alphas, and consequently as monotonous a presence as his polar opposite Seth, a whining nerd who shows up for creature-stalking duty in a bland suit and, at every sign of danger, pees his pants—a running gag that’s emblematic of the proceedings’ wit.

He’s the alpha of all alphas, and consequently as monotonous a presence as his polar opposite Seth, a whining nerd who shows up for creature-stalking duty in a bland suit and, at every sign of danger, pees his pants—a running gag that’s emblematic of the proceedings’ wit.

A gun-fu rehash that’s additionally a Black-white buddy comedy sprinkled with a dash of Blade, Day Shift operates in a comic book-y realm where nothing much matters and even less warrants one’s attention. The balance between brutality and jokiness is consistently off; the film wants to wow its audience with inventive showdowns and yet undercuts its gory violence’s impact with cornball cartoonishness, as in a scene that pairs Bud and Seth with two brothers (Steve Howey and Scott Adkins) who, besides being adept at their Van Helsing-inspired profession, like to share each other’s gum. I don’t know why that’s supposed to be funny. I do know, however, that it’s depressing to see talented actors such as this—including Adkins, one of the action genre’s under-recognized talents—squandered by material that doesn’t know which way it wants to go at any moment and hits every clichéd bump in the road on its way to a predictably deflating finale.

Whether taking place at shadowy midnight or brilliant midday, Day Shift strives for vicious irreverence and comes up with only middling familiarity. It’s draining in ways that the filmmakers surely didn’t intend but would make its villains proud.

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