“Day Shift” is a damned delight. One would be tempted to call it the best horror comedy of 2022 so far, but it mixes so many genres it’s more like 2022’s best horror-buddy-cop-cartel-drama-bounty-hunter-martial-arts-action comedy (so far ).
Jamie Foxx, turning in his most enjoyable performance in years, plays Bud, a down-on-his-luck pool guy in the San Fernando Valley. We learn right away that’s just the cover for his real gig as a down-on-his-luck bounty hunter… of vampires. And these ain’t your old-school vamps — they’re several different varieties of kung-fu vampires, and darn bendy ones at that. So there are bloody boatloads of action and unreasonably long fights staged for the pure joy of crazy violence. It’s a fine old time.
Bud has a personal stake, so to speak, in rejoining the vampire-hunters’ union on an expedited basis — he needs money to dissuade his ex-wife (Meagan Good) from moving across the country with their daughter (Zion Broadnax). To do so, he has to let a union rep observe him during work hours; that rep, Seth (Dave Franco), is the Felix to his Oscar. Seth is a by-the-book desk jockey; Bud ignores the rules when they interfere with undead evisceration. Meanwhile, the Big Bad, an “Übervampire” named Audrey (Karla Souza), has her own reasons for hunting Bud.
The film grabs ingredients not only from horror and comedy predecessors, but buddy-cop and cartel-war flicks, martial-arts movies and just a soupçon of Blaxploitation, and stirs them together in a vat of gory goodness. Despite all those disparate elements, the script by Tyler Tice and Shay Hatten and direction by JJ Perry remains energetic, detailed and focused. Their well-thought-out world of vampire hunters, with its bureaucratic union and thriving black market, doesn’t take itself too seriously — the real enemy in, say, the universes of “Matrix” or “John Wick” (Hatten and Perry being veterans of the latter).
Instead, “Day Shift” is graced with funny touches that not only generate laughs, but keep the bloodsucking bedlam down to Earth. A black-market tough guy has K-Pop on his TV. Seth compares his partnership with Bud to “Crockett and Tubbs” (Foxx played Tubbs in the 2006 “Miami Vice” movie). A “Twilight” riff works because of the actors’ commitment. What’s more, “Day Shift” lovingly embraces its Valley settings, reveling in Encino, Reseda, North Hollywood and beyond.
Foxx, who also produced, looks to be enjoying himself. He brings solid action-hero bona fides and skillfully hits the humorous notes. Even a throwaway line such as “He already had gout … he has gout,” which starts as a full-throated protest and withers to a meek complaint, benefits from Foxx’s finely tuned comic sensibility. When he warns of a particular substance (“It won’t kill you, but … Jesus Christ”), the seriousness of his thousand-yard stare is pure hilarity.
Many supporting players shine. This has to be Snoop Dogg’s best big-screen appearance, as a legendary, cowboy-outfitted vampire hunter. Scott Adkins and Steve Howey steal their scene as vampire-hunting brothers — er, bro. And Natasha Liu Bordizzo is in serious need of more screen time as the neighbor with a secret (think ESPN’s Mina Kimes with a very particular set of skills).
Longtime stunt performer Perry’s first effort in the director’s chair is self-assured. The bone-breaking, supernatural martial-arts tussles are highlights, but he also admirably executes the comedy. His timing is excellent. He allows his performers space to get in those subtle bits that make the movie funnier than an in-your-face jokefest. As to the action, he even manages to make a car chase enjoyable.
“Day Shift” isn’t all sunshine — the conceit of the Big Bad standing in for a cartel boss brings clichéd dialogue and behavior for the villains. Bud, his family and Audrey aren’t particularly developed. But for those who’d been thirsting for some neck-chopping, kung-fu vampire comedy action: This is your moment.
Rating: R, for strong violence and gore, and language
Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes
Playing: On Netflix Aug. 12