I know I’m late to the critic’s table on this one due to the Christmas holiday and all, but I have seen Bright. I suffered through it and now I’m ready to talk about it.
Bright is the Netflix dick-measuring contest movie, a big-budget, high concept Hollywood type movie featuring the “creative” team behind Suicide Squad, Will Smith and director David Ayers. This movie is proof that Netflix can make expensive, loud, stupid movies like the major film studios. It boasts a script by precocious screenwriter Max Landis. Max Landis is the current flavor of the month in Hollywood, who’s following the career trajectory of Joe Esterhas, a big personality who gets paid lots of money to write scripts for movies that are mostly terrible, audiences hate, and that lose even bigger amounts of money.
It was Landis’s horrible idea to mash up orcs and magic with a gritty mismatched cop buddy-movie drama. Then it was an even worse idea to get David Ayers, who makes gritty, racially charged cop movies that all take place in one day in a seemingly two block radius of Los Angeles. Then you get Will Smith improvising lines like “Fairy lives don’t matter” and here we are, a big, stinking turd of a movie that fails on every level.
In the world of the movie, orcs, elves, and magic are real. The warlike orcs in this story seem to gravitate towards crime and thuggery, so it is quite a brouhaha when an orc becomes a police officer. Everybody hates him, and then he becomes a wacky partner to the anti-orcist Will Smith. Together they need to track down a blonde elf babe runaway and a magic wand. Wackiness will ensue, right? Right? Still waiting.
So what Landis has done is stolen the premise and plot of the far superior ’80s B-Movie classic, Alien Nation, swapped out orcs for aliens, and called it a day. That movie had a grizzled, foul-mouthed James Caan as the human partner. Will Smith doesn’t do grizzled, and he seems uncomfortable doing foul-mouthed. Opinions are mixed whether Will Smith is a bad-ass. I don’t think so, although he’s a got a tall, wiry frame and could certainly beat me up. But the fact that his baby face is untouched by blemishes suggests he doesn’t fight a whole lot.
Here’s my sure-fire way to tell a good bad-movie from a bad, bad-movie. In a good bad-movie, the stupid premise opens up opportunities for action sequences, jokes, or entertaining incidents. Sharknado, for example, is a great stupid premise because it means that you don’t have to wait for your characters to go into the water to be attacked. Anybody at any time can be a victim of a great white shark falling from the sky. Bright is a bad, bad-movie. The premise is that there are magic wish wands in the world, but only a mystical person called a “Bright” can hold a magic wand without exploding. That is just stupid. Why wouldn’t you want your characters getting magic wishes at every opportunity? Say the orc gangs get a hold of the wand. What would they wish for? I’d love to find out. Maybe it’s a hail storm of burgers and a bevy of orc bikini babes show up with a case of lite beer. That would be funny. Or what if the elves get the magic wand? Then trees would grow in the city and unicorns would run by, pooping rainbows. That would be interesting, too. But instead, a magic wand either blows you up or zaps the person you aim it at. Ho-hum.
Director David Ayers and his heavy hand also work in conflict with the central idea of the movie. Ayers loves gritty cop dramas about crooked cops with lots of racial slurs and a steaming pile of four -etter words in every sentence. Characters in his movie can’t make a fast food order without half a dozen F-bombs. “I F’ing feel like a Big F’ing Mac, with the F’-ing special sauce, and a F’-ing side of F’-ing French F’-ing fries. Oh, and a Diet Dr. Pepper, please. Poop, pee, bitches, and weiners, man.” It’s really lazy writing, and it’s exhausting to sit through.
The sole bright spot in the movie is Joel Edgerton as the orc partner, with great make-up and an excellent performance of a terribly-written character. He’s all nervousness, fumbling, and incompetence. The fact that he’s redeemed by the end of the movie and becomes likable and competent are all because of Edgerton holding our attention underneath a pound of spotted skin latex.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Bright plays like a terrible Lethal Weapon rip-off that never really explores the idea of orcs in a modern world. There are your standard cops trading insults, hyper-graphic, exploding head shoot-outs, and car chases every 10-15 minutes to keep you from falling asleep and a nonsensical plot that has our heroes trying to run away from an evil elf assassin but are unable to get away because the magic wand keeps dragging them back into danger. Boo. And even though Netflix likes to crow how expensive the movie was, it looks remarkably cheap with flat lighting, a merry-go-round story that has characters returning to the same three sets over and over, and a “surprise” ending that is a foregone conclusion and is spoiled by the poster all but announcing Will Smith as “Bright.”
The joys of a fantasy story are in exploring a magical world that can be anywhere in any time on any planet. Think of The Lord of the Rings, which every fantasy book, movie, or video games is indebted to. It’s an epic journey over mountains, through forests and deadlands, meeting mystical creatures. Then when you mush that together with a cop drama, which is about exploring familiar situations and re-enacting over-used tropes and cliches, why is anybody surprised this was a horrible movie? What this movie should have done was embrace it’s B-movie origins. Call it Orc Cop, have it star Bruce Campbell as the wise-cracking officer partnered with an orc, and have some demented wizards, dragon hitmen, ogre prostitutes, and maybe a shifty goblin Joe Pesci in the back seat, cracking wise. I’d happily see that movie, and so would you.