I have selfish reasons for wanting to see Day Shift. Yeah, it’s a movie about a black vampire hunter and all, but it was also filmed in my stomping ground of the San Fernando Valley — something I became acutely aware of months before its release when production shut down the street by my local Walgreens where my kid was supposed to get a COVID vaccine shot. Long story short: my kid got COVID, but it’s a small price to pay for cinematic history. I was curious to see what my family’s sacrifice had bought and if that particular location would even make it into the final cut. As it turns out, it did, as did a range of familiar scenery, and with the movie being released on Netflix, I found myself pausing and pointing knowingly like a Leonardo DiCaprio meme.
Day Shift is a celebration of the Valley (and the city as a whole, with the obligatory Snoop Dogg appearance, but mostly the Valley): the dusty, sun-scorched strip malls, the grassless schools and the seedy motels that would be considered retro if they were actually modern to begin with. It’s an odd setting for a vampire movie, since L.A. doesn’t seem like the best place for those trying to avoid sunlight, but logic is not this film’s forte. Its strong point is its action sequences — and, for us locals, being set in the Valley, which it REALLY drums home, shouting out neighborhoods like Reseda, Encino, Northridge, Canoga Park and that unnaturally white haven known as Simi Valley.
Speaking of unnaturally white, Jamie Foxx’s character is named Bud Jablonski. No one ever comments on this. It just sits on the vine and shrivels up, a missed opportunity for comedy that is emblematic of the film’s issues as a whole. There’s an undercurrent of humor running throughout Day Shift, but it never rises above the mundane, which is a shame, given that stars like Foxx, Dave Franco and Karla Souza have rich comedic backgrounds. Much of the stabs at humor play on well-worn buddy cop dynamics, with seasoned vampire hunter Bud being paired with nebbish, sniveling desk jockey Seth (Franco), whose defining characteristic is that he pees himself when he’s scared. Meanwhile, Foxx is, well, Foxx, which is enough to keep things lighthearted, but there are no memorable, laugh-out-loud moments.
The script is the main culprit, which isn’t surprising given that the writers’ other work is for movies whose action similarly carries the load, including John Wick 3 and Army of the Dead. The characters are as boilerplate as they get, from the hardened cop (or in the case, hunter) who plays by his own rules to the chief who wants to take his badge (or revoke his admission to the vampire hunters’ union, even though he nonsensically just let him back into the union) to the nervous rookie who has to learn not to live his life by the book to the hardened cop’s wife (Meagan Good) who exists solely as a source of vulnerability who inevitably gets kidnapped by the villain.
Perhaps the biggest waste of character in Day Shift is the villain herself, Audrey San Fernando (Souza). The concept of one of those smiling real estate agents whose faces are plastered on bus stop ads secretly being a vampire is legitimately funny (and apt), but its potential is wasted on a humorless baddie who regurgitates template monologues from gangster movies (even the cliched “definition of insanity” quote often misattributed to Einstein) with no sense of irony. HER NAME IS AUDREY SAN FERNANDO. But like the Jablonski moniker, it goes nowhere, lying as flat as the character herself. Her master plan to take over the Valley is to buy up properties (a plot that was used previously in Vampires vs. the Bronx) and use…sunscreen. SUNSCREEN. And this is treated in the story with a completely straight face. Her character is hackneyed and predictable, down to the ridiculous tendency of cinematic evildoers to choose the most convoluted way possible to dispatch the captured protagonist, inevitably allowing them to escape. Audrey could’ve been a fun, fake-smile caricature of a villain, but it seems that the entire imagination quota for Day Shift was reserved for the action scenes.
…Which brings me to the main selling point of the film, aside from Foxx’s name recognition: the balls-to-the-wall action sequences. First-time director J.J. Perry is a longtime stuntman, stunt coordinator and fight choreographer who’s worked on big-time action spectaculars like John Wick, F9, Blade, Iron Man, Avatar, The Expendables 3, Transformers: Age of Extinction and…The Glimmer Man? It should come as no surprise, then, that it’s chock-full of over-the-top spectacle, from fight scenes that must’ve employed a Cirque du Soleil’s worth of contortionists (including a dazzling cameo by martial arts superstar Scott Adkins as one of a pair of vampire-hunting brothers whose Armenian accents are, um, accenty) to adrenaline-fueled car chases that remind us of the good ol’ days when L.A. freeway shootings made national news. For the most part, it’s done practically, without a ton of obvious CGI, lending a refreshing, grounded grit to the mayhem.
The action, combined with Foxx’s charisma — with the sort of everyman charm that could elevate him to the America’s Favorite Black Actor throne recently vacated by Will Smith — is what drives Day Shift’s appeal. That’s enough to keep viewers entertained, but those who find it hard to turn off their brains for the non-action scenes might not be able to overlook the glaring shortcomings, including dangling plot points (seemingly with the presumption of a sequel), long stretches of exposition about vampire lore, an overall sterility that lacks any real emotion and a dearth of logic exemplified by the relationship between Bud and his ex-wife, Jocelyn (Good), whose threat to move her daughter to Florida in a week’s time for the sake of “stability” (despite not having yet put their home up for sale) feels like artificial drama to create a time limit that Bud has to race against in order to pay for his daughter’s school tuition…and suddenly urgent braces? At the end, Bud and Jocelyn appear to reconcile, the revelation that he’s a vampire hunter whose job almost cost them their lives somehow not being a threat to their stability.
Such are the frustrations of watching Day Shift, the biggest frustration of which is its squandered potential. It’s still an engaging watch that is genuinely thrilling in stretches, but you can see how it could’ve easily been more. It’s clear that the filmmakers have their sights set on a sequel, but if that happens, they need to up the ante not just on the action (a given for any sequel), but on the script as well.