Review: Jamie Foxx battles vampires in Netflix action-horror-comedy ‘Day Shift’

WTOP's Jason Fraley reviews 'Day Shift'

Imagine Jamie Foxx driving Tom Cruise around Los Angeles like “Collateral” (2004), but instead of a hitman, Cruise flashes his fangs like “Interview with a Vampire” (1994).

That’s the vibe of Foxx’s new L.A. movie “Day Shift,” which drops on Netflix this Friday, delivering an action-horror-comedy with funny zingers and killer fight choreography but confusing blood-sucking rules that eventually drain the life out of a promising premise.

The story follows Bud Jablonski (Foxx), a blue-collar dad just trying to provide for his 8-year-old daughter, who is often left at home with her mother (Meagan Good). Bud claims to clean swimming pools, but actually spends his time hunting vampires in the San Fernando Valley where extracted fangs can make you a killing in the underground black market.

Foxx is a rare talent who can effortlessly shift between high and lowbrow, carrying biopics like “Ray” (2004), musicals like “Dreamgirls” (2006), westerns like “Django” (2012) and action flicks like “Baby Driver” (2017). “Day Shift” might be his campiest role yet, punching fuzzy dice on the rear-view mirror to cruise L.A. like Denzel in “Training Day” (2001).

His smooth sidekick is Snoop Dogg, glancing from under his cowboy hat as women bluntly whisper “call me,” but his screen time is far too brief. Natasha Liu Bordizzo (“The Society”) shines as Bud’s neighbor Heather, while Karla Souza (“How to Get Away with Murder”) is sinister as the vampire supervillain Audrey, holding an umbrella to avoid frying in the sun.

Still, it’s Dave Franco who steals the show, officially surpassing his brother as the more interesting Franco after “If Beale Street Could Talk” (2018) and “The Afterparty” (2022). In “Day Shift,” he’s the lovably dorky novice Seth, who asks questions almost as often as he pees his pants, requiring some “cool” Miles Davis reassurance like “Billy Madison” (1995).

The zingers between Franco and Foxx hit the sweet spot for screenwriters Tyler Tice and Shay Hatten, the latter of whom wrote “John Wick: Parabellum” (2019) and the zombie flick “Army of the Dead” (2021). As the characters explore secret headquarters like “Men in Black” (1997), Foxx hilariously mocks Franco’s organic breakfasts and juniper-green suits.

While the comedic banter is on point, the script struggles when Foxx and Franco trade serious dialogue to explain the vampire “rules of magic.” The exposition is laid on thick, particularly in a pair of back-to-back scenes between the 35-minute and 40-minute mark.

As Foxx prepares his special vampire bullets, he explains, “They’re allergic to wood, but not just any wood, it’s mpingo wood, the strongest African hardwood. Not that Ikea sh*t. We mix it with the garlic. The wooden bullets pierce the heart and the silver-,” before Franco interrupts, “Silver to the throat, right.” Foxx nods, “Yeah, cuts the heads off.”

That wouldn’t be so bad except that Franco keeps going: “You are referring to Uber Vamps, who have been known to come back from decapitation,” to which Foxx says, “Not if you blast them in the heart with wood before you cut their throats with silver.” Franco adds, “You also forgot to mention that you can kill them by burning them.” Got all that?

They add more rules as their convo continues in the next scene. Driving his truck, Foxx asks, “What do you know about Juvies?” Franco replies, “Juvies, or Juveniles, a.k.a. Zombie Vamps, are formed when an already young vamp turns somebody else. Instead of a full vamp, they lack regenerative abilities and appear more dead than alive.” Done yet?

Wait, there’s more. Foxx replies, “What you didn’t say is that they can’t process human blood yet. So what do they do? They feed off of small animals.” Surely that’s enough, but nope, Foxx is a glutton for trivia: “What do you know about different species of vampires?”

Franco replies, “There are five types: Southern, Eastern, Spider, Uber and Juvenile. They are largely solitary, but when together, there is a hierarchy. They organize by age. Sunlight is the only thing they’re scared of. They can’t reproduce, but they can turn people.”

Mercifully, there’s only one more question in this interview with a vampire: “What do you know about Familiars? … More powerful vamps have more powerful Familiars. When it comes to Juvies, a little kid, he’s probably grabbing cats for them, to get them turned.”

If your head is spinning from all that, don’t feel bad. Mine, too. Hell, I won’t even blame the screenwriters; it’s probably just my sluggish brain being slow on the uptake. However, I’m sure I’m not the only one thoroughly confused by all of the vampire jargon, making the action confusing as we try to remember which type of vampire we’re watching next.

The best moments are simple exchanges between Bud and his daughter Paige (Zion Broadnax), who slaps a sticker on his steering wheel at the outset so she’s always with him. Sadly, their big scene together strains too much credibility as a game of “Mario Kart” on her iPad distracts her from a giant car chase even when their truck flies over a hill.

I don’t care how many turtle shells I had to fire at Bowser, I think I would notice if my dad drove our pickup truck off the side of the road and I went flying up into the ceiling of the cab. Or maybe theme parks have finally warped us with 4D sensory experiences?

It’s probably best to just turn off your brain and enjoy the action. J.J. Perry makes his directorial debut after being stunt coordinator on “John Wick: Chapter 2” (2017), “The Fate of the Furious” (2017) and “Gemini Man” (2019). In “Day Shift,” most of his energy goes into elaborate fight sequences with vampires doing backflips each time they’re punched.

The end feels a little anti-climatic. Rather than walking off holding hands into the night, I craved a cathartic scene in the sunshine with Foxx reunited with his wife and kid, maybe lounging at a swimming pool to bring the story full circle to his initial alibi. Only this time, he’s not pretending to clean pools, he’s chilling after a job well done, all in a day’s work.

If “Let the Right One In” (2008) taught us anything, it’s that vampires love swimming pools. Except in that movie, the vampire rules were much more clear. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go study my notes of mpingo wood, silver, Uber Vamps, Zombie Vamps, Familiars and the hierarchy of species from Southern, Eastern, Spider, Uber and Juvenile (Juvies).

Whew, and to think, I just wanted to watch Jamie Foxx kill vampires.

2.5 stars

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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