Prejudice and the police certainly can be fertile ground for movies. The recent “Detroit” proves that emphatically, but while “Detroit” shines, “Bright” dims any discussion of xenophobia with its heavy-handed formula. Despite the presence of funny man Will Smith, “Bright” fails to be funny or enlightening but there were good points to an otherwise uneven and tedious film from Netflix.
“Detroit” is based on a true incident in 1967 in the titular city. “Bright” is about something like the current day Los Angeles in a fantasy world where the communities are segregated by species instead of race: elves are the upper class, humans are the middle class, orcs are the lower class and fairies (Sorry Tinker Bell) are vermin. I’m not sure where the dwarves fit into this society but if you’re observant you’ll see that centaurs replace mounted police. You might wonder if busing was every considered or if that’s far in the future when someone decides this segregation into species-specific ghettos isn’t working. (Beverly Hills belongs to the elves and not the super rich and the movie stars).
From the beginning, the urban graffiti helps set up the world while the opening credits roll. One suspects that elves have plastic surgeons or DNA experts orchestrating everything because they are all tall, thin and beautiful. I believe they are also all white but don’t quote me on that.
Orcs are bald, have splotchy blue markings on their skin and protruding fangs. Like the elves, they have pointy ears, but there is no LLAP here. This alternative reality is about death, lies and buddy bounding across racial barriers.
Fairies are about the size of a bird, beautifully colored, but easily killed. Did the director and writer stop to consider that if it were a bird, audiences wouldn’t really like seeing it killed. Do we want to see a hero bludgeoning a pigeon or a mockingbird to death?
LAPD officer Daryl Ward (Smith) is partnered with the nation’s first orc officer, rookie Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton). During an incident where Nick is getting Daryl a burrito, Daryl is shot and the orc suspect escapes. After his recovery (which we don’t see), Daryl wonders if that’s a loyalty problem and doesn’t want to be assigned another patrol with Nick again, but no one else does either and no one wants to partner with Daryl either. Daryl whacks that fairy with a broom just before Nick picks him up, parking the patrol car on Daryl’s dead lawn. Nick is considered a traitor to orcs, particularly an orc gang.
Their next patrol together is anything but routine because they discover a magic wand and a young elk Tikka (Lucy Fry) who possesses it. The wand is sought by corrupt human cops and dark elves and orcs hoping to rise in the world. The title comes from the term for elves who are trained in magic and you can probably guess that Tikka is a Bright, but one in training. She is fleeing from an evil Bright.
The good news: The casting in incredibly diverse without seeming too artificially planned. Nick’s superior officer Captain Perez is played by Andrea Navedo, Sergeant Ching is played by Margaret Cho and Yamahara by Kenneth Choi and Rodriguez by Jay Hernandez.
Director David Ayer and writer Max Landis provide plenty of opportunity for bloody violence and the destruction of cars. That could be good news or bad news.
The bad news is that there’s no subtlety involved. We are bashed brutally over the head in a this-applies-to-our-times messaging and a mixing of glamorous elves and thuggish orcs. Elves have not discovered gluttony or again, have a fast track to the plastic surgeons.
The “Bright” panel at SDCC which was moderated by Terry Crews was one of the more amusing moments of that convention so the movie itself is a disappointment. A better choice on Netflix is the “Bright: The Music Videos.”