Monday, December 25, 2017

On Netflix: BRIGHT (2017)

(US - 2017)

Directed by David Ayer. Written by Max Landis. Cast: Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, Noomi Rapace, Edgar Ramirez, Lucy Fry, Ike Barinholtz, Brad Henke, Veronica Ngo, Happy Anderson, Margaret Cho, Enrique Murciano, Jay Hernandez, Alex Meraz, Dawn Olivieri, Matt Gerald, Joseph Piccuiro, Scarlet Spencer, Andrea Navedo, Cle "Bone" Sloan, Brandon Larracuente. (Unrated, 117 mins)

Netflix enters the realm of the brain-dead blockbuster with the $90 million BRIGHT, the follow-up teaming of star Will Smith and director David Ayer after last year's SUICIDE SQUAD, a film that grossed $750 million worldwide despite nobody really liking it all that much. While SUICIDE SQUAD's contributions to pop culture are limited to teenage girls and MILFs dressing as Harley Quinn for Halloween and this image accompanying any article on Margot Robbie for the rest of her life, BRIGHT is a film nobody will remember a week from now. Nobody's dressing as a BRIGHT orc for Halloween. Playing like the rough draft of a gritty L.A. cop script if written by the late Gary Gygax after he just saw ALIEN NATION in 1988 and immediately ran it through his shredder, BRIGHT tries to fuse Ayer's love of cop movies into the realm of otherworldly fantasy, existing in a present-day world where humans, orcs, and elves have co-existed since the defeat of the "Dark Lord" 2000 years ago. In an effort to promote the appearance of diversity, the LAPD has given burned-out cop--is there any other kind?--Daryl Ward (Smith) an Orc partner named Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton under extensive old-school prosthetics). There's some heavy-handed allegorical implications of racism in an era of controversial police shootings of unarmed black men, with the insulated "protect the shield" attitude extending to the calculated ostracizing of Jakoby. Ward pleads with his watch commander Sgt. Ching (Margaret Cho) to get a new partner, but since nobody wants to work with him either, the two are forced to pair up...if they don't kill each other first!

Or bore the viewer to death first. Ward and Jakoby answer a call and discover a bloodbath at the hideout of the Shield of Light, a fringe underground group of renegade elves prepping to stop the resurrection of the Dark Lord. The lone survivor is Tikka (Lucy Fry as Milla Jovovich in THE FIFTH ELEMENT), a gibberish-spouting elf in possession of a magical, glowing wand that's intended for a "Bright," a standard-issue "chosen one" with the power to defeat the minions of the Dark Lord (any guesses who the Bright will be?). Ching and three other dirty cops arrive, planning to plant the wand on Jakoby and accuse him of stealing it, using that as an excuse to kill Jakoby and Ward, who hates Jakoby but refuses to go along with railroading a fellow officer. Ward ends up killing the other cops to protect Jakoby, and the three find themselves on the run, fleeing a variety of pursuers: the L.A.P.D.; villainous dark elf Leilah (Noomi Rapace), who's after the the wand and Tikka; evil Orc gang leader Dorghu (Brad Henke), and Kandemore (Edgar Ramirez), an elf agent in the FBI's "Division of Magic."

I can't even believe I just wrote that last paragraph. Who thought it was a good idea to combine a hard-R cop thriller with Dungeons & Dragons? The script is credited to Max Landis (son of John and the writer of CHRONICLE and VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN), who was faced with several sexual misconduct allegations just as Netflix rolled this out, but it's obvious Ayer rewrote significant chunks of it. Ayer's fingerprints are all over, whether it's the ballbusting banter between Ward and Jakoby, the "survive the day" motif so vital to the Ayer-penned TRAINING DAY and his much later END OF WATCH, and most glaringly, an entire plot development involving Dorghu and his son that Ayer lifted almost completely from that long, intense sequence in TRAINING DAY when Ethan Hawke's Hoyt is held in a bathtub at gunpoint by Cliff Curtis' Smiley. The glum BRIGHT is riddled with fantasy genre cliches as well: in a shocking turn of events, evil Leilah jumps from a high point and does a three-point superhero landing looking down, then lifting her head to make eye contact with Ward.

It also takes itself far too seriously for such a bonkers premise, so much so that very few of the humorous elements are successful amidst the confused mash-up of dark fantasy, horror, and cop tropes. The only big laugh comes from the revelation that Orcs like death metal, and the sight of a seething Ward watching Jakoby jam along in the police cruiser to Cannibal Corpse's "Hammer Smashed Face," calling it "one of the great love songs." Elsewhere, tiny fairies are regarded as common household pests. Ward swats one with a broom, quipping "Fairy lives don't matter today!" which is one of many Smith groaners that clang to the ground throughout (other witticisms include "A Bright came in and used the wand to magic everyone the fuck up!" and "You fucked over my life for some stupid Orc knucklehead?" and "You're gonna need to unfuck us!  Magic us to Palm Springs or some shit!"). Edgerton comes off the best, not surprising given that he's playing the most sympathetic character and one who's discriminated against by his colleagues as well as his own kind for selling out to become a cop and for being an "unblooded orc," whatever that is. BRIGHT can be summed up best by a perfectly appropriate event that takes place at exactly the halfway point: the action stops cold for a long dialogue scene that exists simply so Kandemore can deliver a mid-film exposition dump to his cynical partner Montehugh (Happy Anderson) in an attempt to catch the viewer up to speed on the incoherent plot. While it serves its purpose, it does prompt a bewildered Montehugh to offer the ultimate BRIGHT auto-critique: "What a shitshow."

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