In Day Shift, debuting tomorrow on Netflix, Jamie Foxx is the least likely candidate to play a person named Bud Jablonski. Bud is a working-class San Fernando Valley everyman whose job cleaning pools is but a front for killing vampires. However, after years of unscrupulous slaying tactics, Bud has been booted from an impressively well-organized union for such work and relies on backroom cash for fangs to get by.
Sound a lot like last year’s Netflix film Night Teeth? Maybe crossed with the candy-shell color timing of Project Power, Netflix’s Foxx-starring superhero outing from 2020? Oh, dear. Is … the algorithm writing its own movies now? There are plenty of moments here when you fear Netfliction might claim another fun idea, likely when the confrontation scenes seem to simply be quality-control tests for those ratchet-pull systems that yoink stunt performers backward. Thankfully, Day Shift’s second hour quickly shakes off its doldrums, punches back in, and races to meet its quota with a bang-bang barrage of hoot-and-holler action.
Like last year’s Nobody, Day Shift is produced by a member of the John Wick brain-trust (in this case, Chad Stahelski) and offers an impressive showcase for farm-team talent. Longtime stuntman J.J. Perry makes his directorial debut here; his noggin-knocking resume includes the coordination of clashes in Haywire and Bullet to the Head (two less-heralded entries in this century’s canon of lizard-brain cinema). Between a hilariously violent carnival atmosphere of flying limbs and bodies — and Foxx being game for at least a modest amount of Ash-like self-deprecation — Day Shift is not unlike watching Sam Raimi take a crack at a Blade movie. It expertly integrates visual effects and practical beatdowns, incorporates one very fun cameo for VOD action fans, and establishes vampire lore well worth exploring in additional films.
The older the chompers, the bigger the payday. That’s how it goes for the Fang Index, which even comes with its own Nasdaq-like ticker. However, Bud needs more than the undercutting payouts he gets from shady hucksters like Troy (Peter Stormare, once more effortlessly sliding in with simultaneously southern-, Swedish- and Slavic-accented sleaze). In fact, Bud needs $10,000 for “tuition, teeth and everything” by the end of the weekend or his estranged wife (Meagan Good) and daughter will move to Florida. But if Bud wants union money, he must get back in the union.
Backed by his unionized buddy Big John Elliott (an amusingly introduced and expertly deployed Snoop Dogg), Bud successfully pleads his case. As part of his probationary status, he’s stuck on a less-lucrative day shift and saddled with Seth (Dave Franco), a nebbish union rep tasked to tag along and tank Bud. When Bud kills an elderly bloodsucker with close ties to head-honcho vamp Audrey San Fernando (Karla Souza), holding onto his newly reclaimed privileges becomes the least of his problems.
Day Shift opens with a promising powder keg as Bud’s battle with the old vampire assumes a position of lively, loose-limbed parkour. After that, it’s a pokey falloff into an avalanche of lore and exposition left largely to Franco, for whom the Lewis Skolnick nerdiness is a nice look.
Seth’s exhaustive cataloging of Southern, Eastern, Spider, Uber and Juvenile vampire species — and their different attributes — seems like window-dressing for another Netflix franchise that will never happen. But then Steve Howey (Shameless) and … a certain heavy-hitter of VOD action who shall remain nameless turn up as the Nazarian Brothers, fellow slayers who team up with Bud and Seth to flush out a vampire hive, and all this lore becomes a legend through which to find your bearings on Day Shift’s action map. Major props to stunt coordinators Justin Yu and Troy Robinson, fight choreographers Michael Lehr, Eric Caetano Brown and Felix Betancourt, and their 80-plus professional stunt performers. They lend shape to Day Shift’s social hierarchy of vampires through carefully considered movement. There’s also a Fast & Furious-worthy car chase that concludes with a cheeky bit of comedy as Bud has to gain clearance on his truck.
The film also finds fresh rhythms in buddy-cop banter between Foxx and Franco, owing to the actors’ appropriately antagonistic chemistry and a few fun swerves in the screenplay (from Tyler Tice and Army of the Dead co-writer Shay Hatten). There’s even a nifty little subtext shared between its human and vampire characters about the opportunity costs of trading family for work, oversimplified as it might be for the half-watching table-dusters and laundry-folders in the room. You’ll just wish for more charismatic villainy from Souza, whose languid delivery too often simply sounds lazy and whose character’s endgame is haphazardly explained. But hey, maybe in the sequel, we’ll get to meet the 700-year-old, drug-kingpin vampire El Jefe — a hinted-at larger threat you wouldn’t mind seeing with these characters and this filmmaking crew. (Netflix should just scrap its Gray Man plans and build out this universe.)
In all, Day Shift is a spry, confident throwback to horror / action / comedy mashups of the 1980s. Not for nothing is The Lost Boys among the selections on a decrepit mall movie-theatre marquee or the film from which Day Shift adapts its own paraphrased final line. Perhaps the algorithm had its hand in all of this. But hey, even the algorithm gets it right sometimes.