"Bright" Makes Compelling Last Minute Case For 'Worst Of Year' Consideration

Will Smith vehicle “Bright” is far and away Netflix’s biggest original film to date, a lavish blend of cop movie and fantasy pic that cost the streaming giant a cool 90 million dollars. It is also, no matter the viewing numbers the company touts, an unmitigated disaster.

Occasionally effective tough guy director David Ayer (“Fury”) and never effective screenwriter and nepotism beneficiary Max Landis (“American Ultra”) didn’t work together on “Bright,” but they make for a hellspawned creative team all the same. Landis’ conceptualization of a gritty crime movie set in a world where humans, orcs, and elves co-exist – one spilling over with juvenile pontifications on race relations – unlocks the worst, most testosterone-inflamed instincts in Ayer. The byproduct is ugly, dumb, incoherent, and preposterously silly – a lethal cocktail when heading for the exit is as easy as the press of a button.

Praise be to actor Joel Edgerton (“It Comes At Night”) who, beneath mounds of blue orc makeup, lends the film a soul it does not deserve. He co-stars as Nick Jakoby, the unwanted orc sidekick to Will Smith’s loudmouthed, trigger-happy LAPD cop Daryl Ward. As the first orc cop in the city’s history, Nick is treated as a pariah by criminals and fellow cops alike, going about his job diligently and quietly until he and Ward find themselves on the trail of an elf in possession of a dangerously powerful magic wand. Then Nick inevitably steps up to the plate to prove, once and for all, that orcs are people, too.

It is a genuine miracle that Edgerton is able to find dignity in a character forced to repeatedly play off of Will Smith-isms like “Fairy lives don’t matter today” and “We are not the fucking wand police!” “Bright” is Smith’s lousiest outing among many since “Bad Boys II” and the actor plays Daryl like he’s well aware: halfheartedly smirking at the camera, ad-libbing extra profanities as if to gloss over the tragedy of Landis’ writing.

The supporting cast doesn’t get off any easier.

Noomi Rapace (“Prometheus”) is an all-out dud as the movie’s baddie, a dark elf named Leilah whose place in the story begins and ends with losing her wand and then chasing after it, leaving eviscerated bodies in her wake. Edgar Ramirez (“Joy”) appears briefly as an elven federal agent (his department is actually called the Magic Task Force) and Aussie actor Lucy Fry is a non-presence as the vulnerable elf in possession of the aforementioned wand.

None of these deficient performances are necessarily the fault of the performers, only telltale signs of Landis’ ceaselessly shoddy scripting and a director with rapidly dwindling levels of self-awareness. The pic’s fusion of magical realms to graphic street violence and racial stereotypes (the undesirable orcs mostly appear as chain-wearing gang-bangers) is unbelievably ill advised, exacerbated by Landis’ wildly misplaced but unflinching belief in his story’s profundity. It would all be hilarious if it weren’t so nauseating.

Ayer’s previous film, the amusingly cluttered “Suicide Squad,” is a paradigm of filmmaking by comparison. Despite that movie’s conspicuous shortcomings, it’s mostly a lark, just as easily experienced as forgotten. “Bright,” on the other hand, comes with the kind of stench that’s hard to get off. It is terrible and shameful, not necessarily in that order, breeding the same kind of hatefulness an even slightly better version of the film might have combatted.

Most of all, it is a significant stain on Netflix’s already middling record with original films and a low point in the still young content wars. It’s a bad look for the company’s biggest undertaking to date to suggest that it doesn’t think much of its customers – or think of them at all.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ out of ★★★★★ (Very Bad)

Release Date: December 22, 2017
Studio: Netflix
Director: David Ayer
Screenwriters: Max Landis
Starring: Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, Noomi Rapace, Lucy Fry, Edgar Ramirez, Ike Barinholtz, Happy Anderson