It’s a refreshing change of pace, with a surprising Big Trouble in Little China vibe
As films like Red Notice and The Gray Man seemingly become the standard for big-budget, action-oriented “Netflix Originals,” the streaming giant’s recent output is frequently criticized as not much more than “movies by algorithm.” Netflix’s feature films have often been homogenized, four-quadrant content, specifically engineered to garner clicks based on a few recognizable stars, plus just enough CGI-smeared thrills to distract audiences from how bloated and uninspired nearly every aspect of these massive productions has been. Netflix’s vampire battling action movie Day Shift feels like the antithesis of that pattern.
Yes, it was still designed with cross-genre appeal, complete with Jamie Foxx as the prerequisite big star up front. But Day Shift’s peculiar blend of action, comedy, and horror doesn’t feel like a choice made with the intention of bringing in the widest possible audience. This film’s mixing of cinematic flavors harkens back to a time when big releases could have highly specific, off-kilter vibes, most likely aimed at a niche audience. It’s closer to an oddball cult classic like John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China than to other Netflix Originals, and it’s more interesting for it. In a blockbuster landscape where all big-budget movies are starting to feel frustratingly similar, Day Shift stands out for its clear point of view, obvious swagger, and decidedly old-school approach.
Photo: Parrish Lewis/Netflix
Director J.J. Perry can claim credit for those merits. While this is his first time fully at the helm of a feature film, he’s no rookie at delivering top-notch mayhem on screen. His 30-year-plus career as a stunt performer and action coordinator is nearly unparalleled in Hollywood. So when the action design collective known as “87eleven,” (the group behind the John Wick franchise, and many of recent cinema’s best action sequences) decided it were going to proceed with Day Shift as its first fully branded 87eleven film project, the team reached out to Perry, as a longstanding member of the group, to steer the ship.
In interviews, Perry comes across as a throwback to a time when stuntmen were almost California cowboys bringing real white-knuckle danger to movie sets. That same “working-man grit meets LA shine” feeling that Perry embodies is all over Day Shift’s story of blue-collar monster slayer Bud Jablonski (Foxx). Bud masquerades as a low-rent San Fernando Valley pool cleaner to cover up his real profession: killing vampires to sell their fangs to his local chapter of the International Union of Vampire Hunters. The job helps him make ends meet and support his young daughter — it just happens to be incredibly dangerous. At his core, Bud is just a working schmo trying to get through the day, dealing with a boss who wants to see him unemployed, a partner he doesn’t want to deal with (Dave Franco), and unforeseen complications making his job more difficult, like a gentrifying elder bloodsucker (Karla Souza) who has plans to remake the Valley into a new vampire hot spot.
The refreshingly low stakes and the way the mundane and the supernatural effortlessly intermix here are just two of the ways Day Shift will remind savvy viewers of the many ’80s and ’90s video-store staples the film is so clearly a love letter to. The Lost Boys, Dead Heat, and Fright Night all get their separate homages, among other movies. Some of these references are presented in subtle ways meant for only the most dedicated film geeks. Others are roaring, affectionate shoutouts.
Day Shift doesn’t live or die by these references and homages, though. Someone who has never seen the older films the script and directing nod to will still find a lot of quality subtle world-building that hints at where sequels (and spinoffs) could fit if there’s a suitable demand. Scriptwriters Shay Hatten (Army of the Dead) and Tyler Tice handle this without falling into the all-too-common mentality of “saving it for a sequel,” which has stopped so many film franchises before they ever really began.
Photo: Andrew Cooper/Netflix
Through all the world-building and heartfelt homages, Tice and Hatten never forget that action movies still need relatable characters. They ground the wild proceedings in the tried-and-true “mismatched partners” formula that’s largely drifted out of favor. They place Bud in the role of the put-upon veteran forced to deal with Franco’s inexperienced pencil pusher turned field agent, Seth. Much of the film’s comedy comes from their pairing, and the two men have an easygoing chemistry that helps make their banter feel natural rather than overly clever.
The script also takes the time to give every major player in the film, even Karla Souza’s villainous vampire real-estate broker, brief moments that humanize them. These character moments, big and small, help keep the film engaging, even when the plot loses a little coherency in the third act in pursuit of setting up the prerequisite action finale.
Speaking of the action, the way Day Shift has been expressly marketed via the John Wick name is a guaranteed draw, and action fans lured in by the connection will be rewarded with some of 2022’s finest action sequences. The 87eleven team is known for working extensively with lead actors to help them seem as competent on screen as the veteran stunt performers they appear alongside. (See the 2021 “Bob Odenkirk as badass assassin” crowd-pleaser Nobody as a prime example.) They work that same magic here. Day Shift not only gives Jamie Foxx plenty of fist-pumping moments where he gets to slice and shotgun his way through dozens of supernatural baddies, it also allows supporting cast members like Dave Franco and Snoop Dogg a chance to show off newly earned action-hero chops. It’s a delight to see actors not normally known for their physicality mix it up on screen so convincingly.
Perry’s action sensibilities have always been a bit more freewheeling than those of his 87eleven colleagues, and it shows in the ways Day Shift looks different from Nobody or the John Wick movies. In this film, his more outlandish impulses show through. Day Shift’s action has echoes of that “tacticool” Wick style, but the supernatural setting allows him to incorporate more exaggerated elements. This gives the many action scenes, like a jaw-dropping daytime group raid on a suburban vampire nest (featuring an extended show-stealing appearance by DTV action superstar Scott Adkins as a fellow vamp wrecker) a vibe that can best be summed up as “Sam Raimi meets Blade in a lucha libre wrestling battle royale.”
The chaos in this set-piece feels entirely fitting coming from a director who the stunt community lovingly nicknamed “Loco.” Best of all, none of the intricate fight scenes, intense shootouts, or wild car chases featured in the film are obscured by poor editing or unnecessary CGI. It’s all presented clearly, and fine-tuned for maximum visual impact. It’s a great return to the days when a film’s most valuable “movie magic” element was the fearless stunt performers risking life and limb to capture genuine thrills in front of a movie camera.
Day Shift’s place on Netflix means it will have a lot of competition for viewers’ attention, with the platform’s seemingly never-ending content stream always moving on to the next film or series without giving new releases much time in the spotlight. It also has to deal with the increasingly negative stigma around recent Netflix Original films. Hopefully, these obstacles don’t keep the film’s potential audience from discovering it. Day Shift is a treat for genre fans and a perfect example of the unusual, flavor-filled projects Netflix should be investing in for the future.
Day Shift is streaming on Netflix now.