For a while, there seemed to be a trend for major studio feature mashups like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Pride & Prejudice And Zombies, and Cowboys Vs. Aliens. None of them were any good, and more importantly, as Hollywood is concerned, all were box office flops. So why would Netflix go for a reported $90 million mashup of what is essentially Lethal Weapon meets Lord of the Rings? Did they smell their first shot at a franchise? This is their biggest shot yet at the bow of the majors. Reportedly they already committed to another Bright but, if true, it certainly could not have been based on a commitment to quality. This looks like a misguided, blatant attempt to play on the same field with the big boys — albeit day-and-date on a streaming service versus a release on thousands of screens (in L.A., it is only at the Bruin Westwood because mainstream chains won’t buy into the Netflix model — an oddity for any Will Smith-fronted film but indicative of cinema’s future).
On paper, maybe the Max Landis script looked like it had possibilities for a commercial project as it deals with the odd-couple pairing of a human cop and an Orc as they patrol the streets of present-day Los Angeles, a world where humans live alongside Orcs, Faeries and Elves right out of medieval times. The setup is obviously meant to parallel racial tensions, but frankly it is kind of laughable — and not in a good way. Smith plays Daryl Ward, a veteran LAPD officer nearing retirement who is paired with Orc Nick Jacoby (Joel Edgerton), an unpopular partner since Orcs haven’t had many fans due to troubles dating back a couple thousand years. Ward’s corrupt supervisors put up with the idea for image sake, and the camaraderie between the two is predictably full of cutesy banter.
What starts out as basically an episode of Hill Street Blues if re-imagined by Peter Jackson soon spirals out of control into full fantasy action mode when the quest for a magic wand (yes!) is in danger of falling into the hands of evil elf Leilah (Noomi Rapace), who looks coolly scary, but mostly in poses. Ward and Jacoby find themselves smack in the middle of this trouble when they pick up Tikka (Lucy Fry), an elf in possession of the wand, which out the hands of the Brights can be seriously dangerous for the good of the world. What ensues are the obligatory chases, shootouts (very loud and lots of them), and special effects required for the fantastical elements Landis has dreamed up.
The director here is David Ayer, who certainly has experience in the cop milieu, if not fantasy lands. He not only wrote the Denzel Washington classic cop drama Training Day, but he also directed the terrific L.A.-set cop film End of Watch with Jake Gyllenhaal, and has chronicled the grittier side of the city in Harsh Times. I was also a huge fan of his WWII war film, Fury and even enjoyed — to a degree — Suicide Squad, a box office hit, if not a critical one, which marked his first teaming with the always engaging Smith. Here his tendencies to add the kind of street grit we have seen in his previous films comes off as forced, to say the least, when you are dealing with scenes where Smith is stomping a faerie to death (Happy holidays, folks!). The cinematography from Roman Vasyanov sticks to the usual dark palette Ayer has used to greater effect in previous films, and there is a tendency to overdo the action set pieces until you feel beaten to death yourself. The soundtrack is so ramped up it would appear this kind of movie only belongs in a theater at least for first run, not as a debut on television screens.
That said, I really like Smith, and he absolutely does what he can with this material, never losing a straight face despite the premise. Edgerton, buried under tons of prosthetic makeup (the movie has been shortlisted for makeup Oscar nomination), is equally fine and takes whatever acting honors there are to be had in the movie. Fine actors like Edgar Ramirez are wasted, but Fry is intriguing at least. Producers are Ayer, Eric Newman and Bryan Unkeless. The film is now streaming on Netflix starting today.
Do you plan to see Bright? Let us know what you think.
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