Review by C.J. Bunce
If you can get through the first hour of Netflix’s new vampire action thriller Day Shift, you’re in for the next level of vampire genre movie-making. Thirty-plus-year stuntman, stunt coordinator, and frequent second unit director J.J. Perry leans into his stunt craft to direct a vampire movie that sets the bar for the genre. Led by Academy Award-winning actor Jamie Foxx as a vampire hunter that has everything you could hope for in MCU’s forthcoming remake of vampire hunter Blade, Day Shift earns its R rating with an uber-violent body count with more blood, decapitations, stabs, and guns than probably any other mainstream movie this decade. After a slow start, the second half of the movie has screenwriter Tyler Tice and Army of the Dead and John Wick film series writer Shay Hatten settled in with a story better than your average video game adaptation.
Day Shift isn’t, of course, based on any video game, but Perry’s ability to take the viewer into a room with opposing forces and weaponry would have you think he’d directed a dozen video game movies. That must be due to Perry’s list of stunt work, including recent entry Samaritan, plus many major movie series: the MCU, Avatar, John Wick, The Fast & the Furious, Star Trek, The Expendables, xXx, Planet of the Apes, The Scorpion King, Transformers, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, plus cult films Bloodshot, Ultraviolet, Domino, Constantine, and the original Blade, not to mention TV series like Firefly, Angel, Charmed, and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. That’s an incredible resume.
Jamie Foxx plays Bud Jablonski, a doting father of one who has been kicked out of the hunters union in L.A., and now moonlights on the dreaded day shift, killing vampires for the value of their fangs. When ex-wife Jocelyn (played by Shazam!’s Meagan Good) wants to move his daughter to Florida, Bud makes a deal to get enough money to get her to stay, but he only has the weekend to do it.
When his black-market buyer (Longmire, Arrow, and Fargo’s Peter Stormare) refuses to pay him union rates for the movie’s first kill, Bud tries to get back into the union, with the help of veteran hunter pal Big John (Snoop Dogg). The problem is the the union–a Men in Black and RIPD inspired facility–is led by Ralph Seeger (played by The Bridge and The Man in the High Castle’s Eric Lange), who got Bud kicked out in the first place. Seeger sets Bud up to fail, letting him have a last chance, provided he’s accompanied on the job by a union rep.
The union rep is Seth, played by Dave Franco, and once Franco leans into his performance the entire movie takes a turn for the better. As a motley pairing in a buddy cop trope, Foxx and Franco’s chemistry eventually clicks. The movie’s villain is Audrey (played by Mexican actress Karla Souza), a real estate developer vampire with sights on upping the game for vampires in L.A. via a sunscreen that allows them to travel by day, and who wants revenge on Bud for the movie’s first kill. Australian Natasha Liu Bordizzo, slated to play popular Star Wars Rebels heroine Sabine Wren in the Ahsoka series, rounds out the cast as Bud’s new neighbor.
The standout effect of the film is using members of Cirque de Soleil as unthinkable twisty, body-bending vampires (I’ve seen the troupe slink down the side of the Padres stadium on a dark Saturday Night at San Diego Comic-Con, and assert this was inspired casting).
Vampire worldbuilding and lore is fairly consistent with what we’ve seen before, other than the clever rare fang value bit. The best story twist is not sharing with the audience all of the rules until later in the film. And the best scene is Bud and Seth caught up a hilarious discussion about the Twilight movies, and look for throwbacks to other vampire movies, including The Lost Boys. The movie has plenty of room for additional fun, including Steve Howey (Psych, New Girl) and Scott Adkins (Doctor Strange, The Expendables 2) as ace hunter brothers.
Yes, the first half of the movie is a bit of a slog, and it’s easy to see viewers dropping off early. One more edit or beginning in the middle of the story would have made it better. But if you have 1980s immunity to over-the-top violence and like the actors or the tropes, it will be worth riding it out. Foxx is great, Franco is great, and Snoop Dogg is a blast in a role that’s more than a cameo. And it’s the most action of any movie this year, in a year full of action movies.
Better than Netflix’s Bright and on par with Netflix’s Army of the Dead, Day Shift is Netflix’s latest direct-to-TV movie, released this month and streaming now on Netflix.