Day-Shift marks the feature film debut from stunt coordinator JJ Perry—as well as the latest attempt by John Wick filmmakers David Leitch and Chad Stahelski’s 87 North Productions to pair high-profile stars with high-concept, action-intensive world building. If you’ve seen the John Wick movies, gold nobody, kateand the recent Bullet Train, you know what you’re getting into. These are highly propulsive, working-class slugfests that sink or float based on cast chemistry and how many bodies are left beaten and bloodied by the end. This time around, assassins, vaguely European crime bosses, and the Yakuza are replaced by vampires, who make equally serviceable blood bags.
Suffice it to say that Day-Shift is not exactly breaking new ground, but it’s a damn good time for a night at home on the couch: sometimes all you need is Jamie Foxx in a Hawaiian shirt and Snoop Dogg as a black cowboy, slaughtering hundreds of vampires with swords, shotguns, gatling guns, garlic grenades, and decapitating roundhouse kicks.
Foxx plays Bud Jablonski, a name that practically guarantees the role wasn’t written with him in mind, and yet he finds a way to own it anyway. Recently divorced and trying to provide for his daughter Paige (Zion Broadnax) and ex-wife Joss (Meagan Good), Bud barely manages to make a living on the sun-scorched pavement of California’s San Fernando Valley. But while everyone else believes he’s merely a humble pool cleaner, Bud is secretly a vampire hunter who gets paid for the teeth he collects. The rarer the type of vampire—Elder, Uber, Spider, Eastern, Southern, Juvie—and the better the condition of the teeth, the more he can make off of them.
The only problem is that the big money is made from The Union, a global federation of vampire hunters which kicked Bud out years ago. Selling to a backroom broker (Peter Stgoldmare) simply isn’t cutting it. And when his ex announces plans to move with Paige to Florida, Bud faces a three-day window to generate enough money for her to keep her LA house.
Foxx, who also produced the film, perfectly captures the vibe of an unconventional, charismatic, working-class parent. It’s nothing he hasn’t done before, and the film doesn’t demand a lot of Foxx, but he’s fun to hang out with in a story oozing with easygoing, unhurried energy. Like most of the aforementioned films from 87 North, there’s lots of expositional speeches—some delivered more skillfully than others, all of them building a world that suggests ambitions for a potential franchise. Writers Shay Hatten and Tyler Tice reference a vampire hunting boom in Paris, and one imagine the mysterious vampire boss El Jefe might get explored later. And while we don’t see how Bud got into this his current line of work, it’s clear that The Union has been around for a while.
Getting back in the vampire hunting club takes a little help from Bud’s friend Big John (Snoop Dogg), who manages to charm their mullet-wearing boss Ralph (Eric Lange) on the condition that Bud works the “Day Shift,” and agrees to have a union rep, Seth (Dave Franco), join him on his assignments. It’s here where the film really gets cooking and turns into a buddy movie, as Bud’s old-school experience matches with Seth’s book smarts. Franco feels perfectly matched against Foxx’s wit, and the film gets a lot of mileage simply by letting them play off each other. While a larger plot does eventually emerge, the film is at its best when it’s playing loose, such as during a house raid where the two of them team up with a couple of other vampire hunters played by Scott Adkins and Steve Howey. Perry is at his best in sequences like this, where he reiterates his bona fides as a coordinator of bombastic, over-the-top action and gore.
Eventually, Bud and Seth get drawn into a real-estate conspiracy involving a community for vampires led by Audrey San Fernando (Karla Souza), whose name immediately sounds like it was designed specifically for metal signs pressed into freshly mowed lawns. It’s a convincingly low-stakes vampire plot that ends up being more about a personal vendetta than any world-ending plans. While it’s not exactly gripping plotting, it is refreshing to see a vampire film that doesn’t revolve around a prophecy, a cure, or blotting out the sun–which cinematographer Toby Oliver (Happy Death Day) shoots with a sometimes excruciating vividness.
The film’s final scenes, which integrate another character named Heather (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), and offer one character a surprising twist of fate, don’t quite capture the energy of the proceeding acts. Perry has already used his best moves by this point, and the final showdown between Bud and Audrey feels almost perfunctory. But even though that finale peters out, the journey getting there feels satisfying overall. Day-Shift doesn’t rewrite either the vampire or the action film, but merging the two—and sticking energetic leads in the middle of that mix—provides the kind of late summer genre fun that won’t just get your blood pumping, but put a smile on that face.