'Bright' (zero stars)
That old Hollywood standby, the venerable buddy cop movie, may have met its anguished demise this holiday season. Will Smith just killed it.
Virtually every permutation of the genre has been done – we've seen black cops teamed up with white cops, black cops with black cops, white cops and other white cops, a white cop and a Latino cop, an Irish cop with a Yank cop, two women cops, and human cops with dog cops.
Alas, the category will likely not survive the latest: a human cop teamed up with an Orc. Yes, that's right – an Orc, along with Elves, Fairies and at least one Centaur. Even with Smith being his most charming singular Smith, “Bright” is a total mess. The movie debuts on Netflix today.
To prepare for writing “Bright,” it seems Max Landis decided to throw every cop film cliche into a Cuisinart, put it on the high setting and leave the top off. This film is what happens when Harry Potter throws up on “Training Day,” “16 Blocks,” “The Wire,” “48 Hours” and “Police Academy.”
It opens in an alternate reality of South Central Los Angeles – a gritty, graffiti-covered, gang-infested patrol area that includes Orcs in thick gold chains and sweatsuits drinking liquor in front of burning barrels and listening to rap. Elves, on the other hand, seem to be prissy, elitist and vapid. They live in – wait for it – Elftown.
Smith's Officer Ward has just returned to the job after being shot and is assigned to reunite with his rookie partner, Nick Jakoby, the first Orc to serve with the LAPD. Jakoby is played by Joel Edgerton and he is made to look like a hunk of Roquefort cheese rotting on an August afternoon.
Because Orcs have in the past been horrible to humans, Jakoby faces bitter resentment from fellow officers, who call him a “diversity hire.” He also is hated by his own kind, who consider him a turncoat. So we are left to wonder if he's a cop first or an Orc first. (And what his ears might taste like on a nice multigrain cracker.)
It's a tough spot to be in, made worse because nobody likes the police. (As Ward's daughter points out: “Why do you have to be a policeman? Everybody hates policemen.”) Why does Ward stay on the job? You guessed it – he's five years from his pension (Many thanks, “Lethal Weapon.”)
At this point, the film might have explored racism and systemic profiling by having different otherworldly species represent whites, black, Latinos and Asians. Instead, the film doubles down on the fantasy, embarking on a city-wide nonsensical search for a rare magic wand. Cue the car chases, over-the-top gang members, throat slitting, martial arts moves, torture and gas station explosions. (Warning: Many, many Orcs were harmed making this film. Logic was also badly injured).
Wait, hold up. Did we really just say “wand”? Yes indeed, this alternate L.A. reality may have Uber, former “Fear Factor” host Joe Rogan, Toyota Corollas and topless bars, but it also has a dark prophecy, renegade Elves, a Magic Task Force and a wand that has enormous power. “This is like a nuclear weapon that grants wishes,” we are told by someone in a straight face. Only a Bright – a person with supernatural abilities – can use it correctly. They might not even know they are a Bright. You can see where this film is going even without being very bright.
David Ayer is the director and he's had a role in other buddy cop films, helming “End of Watch” and writing “Training Day.” This, though, is a labored affair with little stylistic coherence. The scenes fit poorly together and the humor is forced. Though it's supposed to span a day and night, it rains whenever the film needs that “Blade Runner” brooding wet darkness, a manipulative touch.
Actually, there's not an original thing in the film, with the possible exception of a foosball table being used to try to kill an Elf. But the soundtrack seems nice, with songs by Logic, Meek Mill, alt-J, Machine Gun Kelly, X Ambassadors, Camila Cabello, Portugal. The Man and A$AP Rocky.
Things go seriously off the rails as the film lurches to its conclusion. Smith seems to know how bad the film is so he agrees to have his face hit repeatedly, leaving it puffy and bloody. Perhaps he hopes no one can recognize him anymore. But there's no escaping the truth. This film makes his misfire “Wild Wild West” looks like “The Godfather.” Plus, he knows he just buried the buddy cop film genre. You'll never see two cops swapping snide comments in the front seat of a cruiser again – and not laugh.