‘I’m gonna finish my coffee and go kill the fairy,” Will Smith says at the outset of the new movie Bright, and you know you’re in for something a little different when the jaded LAPD officer he plays indeed heads out into the yard and starts swatting away with a broomstick at a squirrel-sized magical creature that is flitting around his bird feeder.
Bright, a fantasy-cop tale rated TV-MA that has all of the language, violence, and nudity associated with an R rating (or any Sunday night on HBO), is by turns funny, imaginative, and daring, with the kinds of visual effects associated with event movies. Picture what would happen if J. R. R. Tolkien were hired to do a follow-up to Training Day, or think of it as Harry Potter and the Corrupt Cops. Bright would have been better than most of the other offerings this season at the multiplex, but to see it you’ll have to just stay where you are: It’s on Netflix. Merry Christmas, and the Orville Redenbacher’s in the cupboard is better than the popcorn at the movie theater anyway.
Thanks to a diversity program, the financially struggling but honest cop Ward (Smith) is stuck being partners with the Orc Jakoby (Joel Edgerton, not that you can tell under the makeup). There is a bit of bad blood here given that Ward was hit with a shotgun blast while Jakoby was off getting a burrito. “I was getting a burrito for you!” Jakoby protests. Also, Jakoby may have helped the attacker (a fellow Orc, naturally) escape. Is Jakoby more loyal to the cops or to the Orc community? During routine patrols, when the two might happen upon, say, a crazed Orc randomly swinging a sword around in the street. Jakoby moans that it’s exhausting that everywhere he goes, Orcs are the bad guys. To which a Latino cop replies, “Don’t look at me! Mexicans still get sh** for the Alamo!”
Ayer, whose credits as a writer include the superb cop dramas Training Day, End of Watch, and Harsh Times (the latter two of which he also directed) but also the celluloid dumpster fire Suicide Squad, loves caustic and cynical characters, and the tart exchanges are the best parts of Bright, which actually gets less interesting when the shoot-outs and fights begin. Still, Ayer keeps you guessing about the parameters of the world he’s designed as the cops happen upon a magic wand of such extraordinary power that only a gifted individual — a “bright” — can safely direct its nearly limitless powers. The wand, which looks like a portable lightning bolt, turns out to be linked to an ancient feud involving Orcs and Elves and plays out with the requisite butt-kicking lady villain (Noomi Rapace) wreaking predictable havoc as she tears through L.A. looking for the magical object.
— Kyle Smith is National Review’s critic-at-large.