Saturday, December 30, 2017

BRIGHT (2017)

Although Netflix has been a destination point for quality television for a number of years now, their feature film production arm has not exactly been top notch. There are number of Netflix produced feature films that you can see on the service but I'll just mention the two action movies that I'm aware of as 'Netflix films' and focus specifically on their big holiday release of BRIGHT.

Many months ago I watched their production SPECTRAL (2016) and observed at the time that it was a rolling disaster filled with obvious post production work to attempt to bring the film into some kind of serviceable form. That ultimately failed and created a movie that starts out interesting and then bumbles and trips its way straight into abject pointless stupidity and disaster. Proving that there seems to be some glitch with spotting script problems and/or just well-produced and thought out ideas for stories, we come now to BRIGHT (2017).

Netflix has certainly spent the money to make this a good movie. They signed on a star in Will Smith, an excellent group of character actors to fill out the cast, a director who has made at least one very good film and a production team that surely knows how to put together a good-looking product. The weak link in this entire affair is definitely Max Landis' weak-ass script. When my girlfriend read the description of BRIGHT she quickly gleaned something that I should have thought of myself when she compared it immediately to the 1988 film ALIEN NATION. Indeed, as soon as she said that, it was clear to me that BRIGHT is little more than a slightly more convoluted, slightly more expensive and definitely more poorly scripted version of ALIEN NATION. In the 1988 film refugee aliens land on Earth and years later are still trying to assimilate into human society. One of these aliens has now become the first cop on the LAPD and is partnered with an older police officer who doesn't want the assignment. On a call they discover a crime that is much bigger than they can handle alone but also learn that they may not be able to trust their superiors on the force. BRIGHT uses that template but makes a huge world-building mistake.

In this film orcs, elves, fairies, trolls and all sorts of other fantasy creatures are real and have co-existed with humanity for centuries if not forever. But, the modern day Earth of the film is just our world with a couple of thin layers of fantasy details laid over the top. We are shown anti-orc graffiti to delineate that group as the most discriminated against in this society with obvious criminal gangs and heavily segregated neighborhoods making their lower status clear. And then we see that the highest level of this world is occupied by elves who seem to run everything they wish to, along with their well paid human sycophants. Herein lies the fail - if this world has existed with all these races co-mingling for centuries why does it so closely resemble our Earth of 2017? If magic is real why has technology advanced to the level it has in this reality? We're given a few casual lines about the past of this world but never anything to indicate how and why things are as they are. Even the occasional line referencing real historical events such as the Alamo create more questions than they settle. We're not even given a real motivation for the villains' actions beyond just reacquiring a lost magic wand. The story needed at LOT more background information to establish a place that felt like something more than a tossed off idea. This script needed more eyes on it to fix it's inherent thinness.

It doesn't help that the script's dialog is pretty weak as well, substituting profanity for emotion and bad jokes for character devolvement. Will Smith does his best with the material as does the always interesting Joel Edgerton as his orc cop partner but they can't save the poorly constructed narrative. Also, I think Smith may have pulled the chain on his MEN IN BLACK character one too many times now and it might be time to retire it completely. The director handles the action scenes well and actually generates some tension and suspense once things get moving but that and the excellent cinematography are the only consistently well done elements in this thing.

If you're curious, check it out but go in with lowered expectations and hope that NetFlix starts finding better scripts for their big action epics - and soon! 

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