Friday, December 22, 2017

A Bright Mess In A Morally Bankrupt Los Angeles

Joel Edgerton as Jakoby and Will Smith as Ward in David Ayer's sci-fi police drama "Bright". 

Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Friday, December 22, 2017

David Ayer's "Bright", an unkempt, unruly film, melds sci-fi with "Lord Of The Rings", "Training Day", "Men In Black" and "Bad Boys" but emerges as a true disaster on Netflix, which is where this film should be safely ensconced.  Will Smith (Mr. Ayer's miserable "Suicide Squad") is Ward, a Los Angeles cop whom, as his sergeant (Margaret Cho) points out, "no one wants to ride with."

Amidst an LAPD Internal Affairs investigation, Ward and his Orc partner Jakoby (Joel Edgerton, in heavy makeup and mask) hunt Elves, who are plaguing the city and are linked with a crime epidemic.  A mysterious force - a Bright - is a source of power, key to defeating the Elves, led by Leilah (Noomi Rapace) and their quest for the Magic Wand.  (Insert laugh track here.)

Setting a story like this one on the beat of L.A. cops will be a tough sell for many audiences I think, but Mr. Ayer, who knows the streets of Los Angeles well, ambitiously sets out his stall of violence, poor dialogue and assortment of bad actors and hews firmly to it.  At least he doesn't apologize for what his aims are.  It is too bad those aims are as low as they appear by the looks of "Bright". 

When Mr. Smith intones lines like "let me see your Orc face when it shuts the hell up and just drives to work" it feels more robotic and tired than funny.  I thought immediately of "Bad Boys" and noted how far down from that film Mr. Smith has come where his presence in police movie dramas are concerned.  Like a stand-up comic begging to buy a laugh from a nonplussed audience, people try too hard to get laughs in "Bright".  Mr. Ayer too, doesn't know when to stop in his L.A. cops underbelly canon, and of his entries only "Training Day" still resonates.  "Bright", which takes place almost exclusively at night, may yet achieve some kind of cult status however, and might work as a Midnight Movie screening.  Time will tell.

"Bright" sets up an Orc culture -- Orcs are the labeled "other", hated and despised by the human population they uneasily co-exist with.  The Orcs, routinely beaten Rodney King-style by L.A. police, are a metaphor for the demonized classes of American society.  Jakoby is the only Orc we see on the L.A. beat, and his presence isn't welcomed by L.A.'s human cops.  Like a "tragic Orc" Jakoby isn't wanted by his community either.  He's got a hint of compassion and empathy, something the humans in "Bright" lack.  Some of the scenes in "Bright", it must be said, are so ridiculous as to be downright embarassing.  I credit Mr. Ayer with having the guts to put this monstrosity on Netflix, and the online streaming service's reputation might take a hit, who knows?  Are there worse things on Netflix?

Watching "Bright" was a very underwhelming experience, even on a laptop.  You could, if you wanted, on a flight from San Francisco to Denver, watch this film and have a few minutes to spare.  Or you could get some much-needed sleep?

I don't know where else to go with this review, other than to say that "Bright" is one of the worst films of 2017.  It isn't the worst -- it has a few decent action sequences and a touch of grit -- yet those touches are very few.  What "Bright" lacks is a pulse and a core.  It looks as if Mr. Smith and the rest of the cast are constantly rehearsing in a read-through, not acting.  I think this film is too much in its own head.  There's a confined space and atmosphere that doesn't extend very far beyond one scene to the next.  The visual effects, relentless gunfire and explosions overwhelm any atmosphere or situations that develop. 

Well let's just say that the script, especially its dialogue, needed development.  Had Mr. Ayer set "Bright" on another planet, who knows?  But on this one "Bright" is a massive failure.

Also with: Lucy Fry, Edgar Ramirez, Veronica Ngo, Alex Meraz, Jay Hernandez, Ike Barinholtz, Dawn Olivieri.

"Bright" is rated TV-MA, which would be an R if it were rated by the Motion Picture Association of America.  The film, which is exclusively on Netflix except for one theater in L.A., contains graphic bloody violence, gore and language.  The film's running time is one hour and 57 minutes. 

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