A man pulls up to a quiet house in the San Fernando Valley and heads toward a littered pool. He begins to clean, using a net to grab empty beer bottles and a drowned possum. Then, without prompting, he enters the seemingly empty house. He surveys the area, and out of thin air, an old woman appears. The man shoots her in the heart, initiating a fiery battle. She is a vampire. He is a hunter.
Day Shift, J.J. Perry’s rowdy directorial debut, opens with this twisted, action-packed scene. The man, Bud Jablonski (Jamie Foxx), and the vampire face off in a minutes-long, intricately choreographed fight. They leap from room to room, scale walls, contort their bodies like pretzels, fire guns and, in the case of the vampire, try to get a bite or two in.
The economical introduction levels expectations for this breezy popcorn entertainment. Day Shift is a rambunctious, strange and occasionally humorous action-thriller-comedy that chronicles Bud’s attempts to raise $10,000 in seven days. The tidy script and energetic cast — Foxx, Snoop Dogg and Dave Franco all enliven the workaday beats of the story and add distinctive comedic touches — mean audiences can look forward to a good time even if they don’t remember much after the credits roll.
After killing the vampires (there were two) in the inconspicuous Valley home, Bud yanks their fangs out with pliers. This is a version of reality in which vampires not only exist, but their teeth are highly sought after. The film doesn’t get into the why or the mechanics of this dental marketplace, but we know that Bud lives a double life. To his ex-wife Jocelyn (Meagan Goode) and young daughter Paige (Zion Broadnax), he cleans pools for a living. The secrets and lies have cost Bud his marriage, and he struggles to maintain a connection with his daughter. Foxx works through the tonal inconsistencies resulting from Bud’s dramatic backstory and Day Shift’s predilection for high jinks by deadpanning his jokes and leaning on sarcasm. This gives the humor a cutting edge and audiences a peek into Bud’s stressed psyche.
That’s necessary because Bud is under legitimate duress. Years ago, he was kicked out of the vampire-hunting union for racking up innumerable code violations. His infractions left him to work alone and sell his fangs to black market buyers like Troy (Peter Stormare), known for their terrible rates. News of Jocelyn’s plan to sell the house and move to Florida with Paige amplifies Bud’s desperation. He begs his ex-wife to give him until Monday (seven days from the start of the film) to come up with the money for Paige’s tuition ($5,000) and braces ($4,800). The stakes of Day Shift are awkward, starting with the random temporal constraints and the arbitrary bills Bud is now responsible for.
The film is much more enjoyable if — as with most Netflix projects — you don’t read too much into the “why” and simply focus on the “how.” Bud enlists his old friend Big John (an underutilized Snoop Dogg) to help him get back into the union. However, the new boss, Seeger (Eric Lange), nurtures an unhealthy disdain for hunters like Bud, who he feels don’t respect rules or authority. In exchange for re-entry, Bud must agree to be surveilled by a new partner, Seth (Dave Franco), a nervous union member with no field training.
Bud and Seth’s partnership conforms to a predictable pattern: Bud is the mercurial, veteran hunter with sharp senses, and Seth is all book smarts (he’s memorized the union code) but a liability in the field. As the film proceeds, Bud and Seth move to the center as other characters slip into the background. Their friendship contains charming elements, but mostly stays at a simmer. Another tension emerges: It turns out Bud’s vampire hunt at the beginning of the film angered Audrey (Karla Souza), one of the most powerful vampires in the region. Seeking revenge, she pursues Bud and Seth as the two try to kill enough undead to raise money.
Day Shift is big on action, with elaborate fighting scenes making up most of the film. Perry spent 30 years as a stuntman and helped choreograph memorable sequences in the Fast & Furious and John Wick series. In his own film, he calls upon a similar amount of imagination and excitement, coordinating scenes that will no doubt satiate some audience appetites.
But that heightened vision isn’t applied to building out Day Shift’s world, which feels like an amalgamation of familiar tropes. The vampires aren’t developed enough either aesthetically or narratively. (Most of them resemble Game of Thrones’ white walkers — those wrinkled, hollow-eyed creatures who haunt the series). It’s hard to keep track of the politics of their world: Who is considered a good vampire? Who is a bad one? Why is there a hunting business to begin with? And then there’s Audrey, the evil vampire plotting world domination, whose story feels too flat to fuel the latter portion of the film.
Fortunately, those flaws don’t sink the film. Relationships give Day Drift some heft and momentum. Foxx and Franco are a surprisingly good match with their unforced rapport. Their jokes and light-hearted jabs are founded on the characters’ growing affection for one another. Bud has just as much to learn from Seth as the young hunter does from the veteran. Add Snoop Dogg’s sagacious one-liners to the mix and you end up with a gangling, unexpected trio you won’t mind rooting for — even if a sequel is as unnecessary as it is inevitable.