Stuntmen and stunt coordinators are arguably better than anyone (outside of John Woo) at directing action movies; it seems obvious, but they don’t often get the chance. Ever since stuntman Hal Needham, who did stunts for The French connectionconvinced Burt Reynolds to let him direct Smokey and the Bandithave stunt coordinators made huge action movies. Atomic Blonde, Extraction, Bullet Train, Hobbs & Shawand each John Wick have all been directed by stuntmen, and now JJ Perry is throwing his hat in the ring Day shifta new vampire horror comedy on Netflix.
Perry brings a unique working-class sensibility to the film, a story about a father who has been kicked out of the guild of vampire hunters; he now uses a job as a pool cleaner as a cover to hide his renegade, unsanctioned vampire hunt. His side hustle can’t sustain his family when they need some quick cash, so he tries to make good with the union again, unaware that a new kind of vampire is hunting him.
Pool Guy: Vampire Slayer might sound like a poor low-budget premise that would fall apart under the weight of its own stupidity, but it’s undeniable from the very first minutes of Day shift how much professionalism and consummate skill is on display here. If only the movie could keep up with itself.
Jamie Foxx and Day Shift’s best action sequence
Jamie Foxx is delightful as Bud Jablonski (presumably no relation to the Polish molecular physicist), and seems to be having more fun than he has since Baby driver. Many may have forgotten how funny Foxx is and how he started out as a comedic force to be reckoned with The Jamie Foxx Show, Roc, and In Living Color. His comedic instincts haven’t aged a bit in three decades (and he looks better than ever here), while Foxx leans into the ridiculous nature Day shift with gusto. He has an energy similar to Bruce Willis Die hard here, and seemingly ad-libs some great little comedic non-sequiturs throughout the film with total ease (like when he orders yogurt and asks if there’s a Black History Month discount).
Day shift begins with Jablonski cleaning a pool before suiting up with guns and blades to investigate a house that doubles as a vampire crypt. Barely five minutes in Day shift, Foxx blasts an old woman in the chest with a shotgun; her hand jerks, and before the dust can even settle, she pulls herself up to the ground, revealing her true vampiric colors. This initiates what is honestly one of the best fight scenes in recent years, an incredibly choreographed and visually brilliant fight that is wildly entertaining. This is the perfect mismatch Day shift aims for – a mix of over-the-top moments, gruesome action sequences and surprising comedy.
Perry hired real contortionists for several of the vampires in Day shift, and when mixed with the stuntman’s choreographic brilliance and Foxx’s own stunt work, it’s truly a sight to behold. Bodies contort in unimaginable ways, wooden balls fly and silver blades cut in what looks like a post-apocalyptic Cirque du Soleil bar fight. It’s a mesmerizing scene, at once gory in its brutality and immensely intelligent in its design, and makes for one of the best opening scenes of 2022. Unfortunately, it’s a high that’s never repeated throughout. Day shiftwhich makes the rest of the film feel like a downward slide into redundancy.
The plot of Day Shift bites off more than it can chew
Nevertheless, there is great fun to be had on the way down. The way Foxx throws aside a litany of small comedic gestures certainly helps the film as it races towards cliché town as Jablonski has a week to come up with thousands of dollars to keep his (estranged) wife and daughter from to move to Florida. Meanwhile, Audrey San Fernando (Karla Souza), a very powerful vampire who tries to unite the different species of vampires to rule California by daylight with the invention of vampire sunscreen, is out for revenge against Jablonski.
Jablonski has to get back into the union of vampire hunters (Local 8711) to make enough money to keep his family (because vampire teeth are worth money, for some inexplicable reason). Unfortunately, his reckless actions have gotten him kicked out several times for violating various codes, but his friend Big J (Snoop Dogg) is able to get him back in under one condition – the uptight, rule-abiding desk jockey named Seth (Dave) Franco) accompany him and ensure that no code is broken.
Thus begins the comrade officer portion of Day shift, which is filled with over-the-top tropes but remains entertaining because of Franco and Foxx’s chemistry. Franco has quickly become one of the most endearing actors working today, and he’s absolutely hilarious here. Although his character is a bit underwritten and undergoes a rather random change halfway through the film, Franco elevates every scene he’s in with kindness, wit and just great acting. Snoop Dogg is also surprisingly good, playing a handsome cowboy who seems to have slept with everyone.
As you can probably imagine, there is a lot going on Day shift, and its already long 114 minutes doesn’t feel like enough time to cover it all. Several other characters and subplots are introduced, and the major plot elements are rushed so much that it often feels like the movie skipped a beat. There seem to be big gaps in the narrative here, as characters like Heather (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) suddenly come out of nowhere and become integrated into the progression of the plot with no prior character development to indicate. Things happen to Seth, Big John, and Jablonski’s wife and daughter that are either undeserved or just downright inexplicable.
JJ Perry From Stuntman to Day Shift Director
Despite the weakness of the script, Foxx and (especially) Franco are charming, funny and likable, and Perry keeps things accelerating in such a smooth and energetic way that the film is usually entertaining regardless. Perry does some fascinating and clever things in it Day shift, and absolutely reveals his directorial skills here; with a better script he could make the next great action movie. What he has done, however, is not only show off his incredible talent in action sequences (which makes sense, coming from a stuntman and coordinator from Avatar, Iron Man, Haywireand Star Trek Into Darkness), but also shows his skill with actors, his patience with dialogue sequences and his intelligence to bring interesting themes to life.
Perry was raised (perhaps by a single mother) as very working class; he was passionate about martial arts, but his mother couldn’t afford any tuition, so at the age of eight he worked as a janitor at a martial arts academy in exchange for lessons. After he left the military (unfortunately one of the few options for people in poverty who want to get ahead in life), he started stunt work, very slowly making a name for himself after some uncredited roles. Over the past three decades, he has climbed the ranks to become one of the most respected people in the field.
This working-class vampire movie should have been better
Day shift smart reflects much of the working class sensibility. This is of course a movie about a pool guy who needs money. The main villain, Audrey, is literally a real estate vampire, which is saying a lot in the midst of our current housing crisis. The film’s emphasis on trade unions and the ability of the underclass to band together in such a way to fight the blood-sucking elite has unmistakable proletariat vibes. In many ways, Day shift is the most blue-collar vampire movie ever made, and with a few rewrites and sharper teeth (or a move to a limited series), it could have been a hugely important movie with enlightening messages without losing any of the fun.
As it says, Day shift is a wildly uneven but usually entertaining action comedy with a great cast and one amazingly perfect sequence. Hopefully it’s a precursor to Perry’s masterpiece. Day shiftfrom 87Eleven Entertainment and Impossible Dream Entertainment, and produced by Shaun Redick, Yvette Yates Redick, Chad Stahelski and Jason Spitz, is now streaming on Netflix.