Clearly, Netflix wants to go toe-to-toe with Hollywood, and they are challenging it with their own provocative, slam-bang, $90-million, pulp-fantasy-thriller “Bright” (*** OUT OF ****), toplining Will Smith and Joel Edgerton as a rare pair of LAPD beat cops. Although Smith plays a human, Edgerton is cast as an Orc! Essentially, “Suicide Squad” director David Ayer has taken his superb police procedural “End of Watch” (2012) and retooled it as something like director Graham Baker’s “Alien Nation” (1988) with the fantastic beings from Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” franchise. Clocking in close two hours, “Bright” conjures up non-stop action, nail-gnawing suspense, unbearable tension, complete with surprises and revelations galore. Smith is as charismatic as ever, but he isn’t mimicking his “Bad Boys” character Mike Lowery, a role that he plans to reprise in two forthcoming sequels: “Bad Boys Forever” and “Bad Boys 4.” As veteran patrolman Daryl Ward, he is mired up to his neck in devastating debt, and his chief aim in life is to survive long enough to get his pension. Meantime, Ward finds himself in a predicament like nothing any policeman has confronted. The world of “Bright” is as gritty, violent, and racially charged as 21st century America, but this imaginative epic takes place in an alternate universe where far-fetched creatures, such as Orcs, Fairies, Elves, and others have been co-existing with humans since the dawn of time. Were it not for these extraordinary characters, “Bright” would amount to little more than another foray in urban crime. Sadly, this inventive hokum suffers from two shortcomings. First, predictable plotting undermines the outcome because Ayer and “Victor Frankenstein” scenarist Max Landis paint themselves into a corner. Second, the filmmakers provide only the most basic backstory about this bizarre new world. Meantime, the original “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” actress Noomi Rapace keeps things exciting as a demonic elf who tries to ice our heroes, while Edgar Ramirez is equally as tenacious as another kind of Elf with a badge.
Patrolman Daryl Ward (Will Smith) isn’t ecstatic about having an Orc as his partner. In the alternate universe of “Bright,” Orcs are savage, toothsome creatures who resemble a a synthesis of olive-skinned albinos and ghoulish vampire of the 1922 silent horror classic “Nosferatu.” Basically, Orcs are blue-collar, bottom-feeders who stick together inseparably and rank beneath the most woebegone ethnic groups ravaged by poverty and racism. Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton of “Smokin’ Aces”) is a typical Orc, and his fellow Orcs display nothing but contempt for him. Since they have no use for him, Nick has no use for them. Indeed, Nick has always dreamed of wearing a badge. Imagine his surprise when his dream comes true, and the LAPD hires him on the grounds of diversity. Meantime, Daryl is desperately trying to hold onto his job. Unfortunately, riding with Nick is no bargain as Daryl discovers when out of nowhere a shotgun-wielding Orc blasts him with a shotgun. Fortunately, Daryl survives, but he isn’t happy that he must resume riding with Nick. Ward’s irate fellow police officers heap endless criticism on him for tolerating Nick. They argue that he should charge Nick for incompetency, so the LAPD will fire the rookie. Daryl’s fellow officers fear that if Nick proves himself as a valuable contribution to the force, more Orcs will follow.
Word has spread like wildfire around Los Angeles about a virulent league of Elves known as the Inferni. Moreover, these Elves have been toiling to resurrect a renowned ‘Dark Lord’ warrior to subjugate mankind. Legend has it the Inferni can with a magical wand deemed “a nuclear weapon that grants wishes.” The Inferni are ranked as ‘bright’ because they can wield this wand. Furthermore, accounts claim there may even be some humans who can brandish it. Meanwhile, anybody else who dares to touch it is doomed to incinerate themselves before they can realize their dreams. Daryl and Nick stumble onto a wand one evening in a hood when they respond to a shooting and find themselves in the middle of a supernatural showdown. They help a renegade young Elf, Tikka (Lucy Fry of “Mr. Church”), who has slain another Inferni with that deadly incandescent wand. Dumbfounded by these circumstances, Daryl summons his watch commander, Sergeant Ching (Margaret Cho of “One Missed Call”), and his fellow patrolmen, to make sense out of this uncanny situation. No sooner have they arrived than the police see the wand as an answer to all their troubles. Furthermore, they conspire to kill Daryl and Nick, so nobody will know how they acquired the wand. Daryl turns the tables on them, then Nick and he realize they are now being stalked by a more formidable Inferni, Leilah (Noomi Rapace), who wants the wand and is prepared to kill anybody who gets in her way. Indeed, Leilah is ten times more powerful than Tikka, and Leilah’s posse is pretty much indestructible, too. If Daryl and Nick don’t have their hands full enough, they must contend with a crippled gangsta, Poison (Enrique Murciano of “Collateral Beauty”), who needs the wand, so he can walk again. Poison rules an army of trigger-happy, machine-gun toting thugs. Adding to the complications is another Elf, Kandomere (Edgar Ramirez of “Point Break”), a government agent who supervises a Federal Magic Task Force that wants the mysterious wand, too.
Director David Ayer rarely lets our embattled buddy cops catch their collective breath as they run a gauntlet consisting of the ruthless Inferni, Poison’s homicidal hellions, and corrupt LAPD officers. Before everything works out for them, Daryl and Nick must dodge barrages of bullets and discover that the wand can resurrect the dead. Ayer intersperses the careening car chases, harrowing shootouts, and high-octane explosions with plenty of exposition, so we learn little by little the amazing powers of the wand and the various characteristics of the heroes and villains. “Bright” delivers more than enough wattage to keep audiences enthralled before its obligatory feelgood ending.
“Bright” is streaming at a Netflix near you.