After working as a stuntman, stunt coordinator and sometime actor for the last 32 years, J.J. Perry has finally made his directorial debut with the deliriously entertaining Day Shift. A fully assured debut, Perry has created a gleefully violent horror comedy that is unsurprisingly filled to the brim with finely choreographed action scenes.
Perry is in line with a number of stuntmen turned directors who have turned in fantastic debut features. Going back to the 80’s you had the likes of Craig R. Baxley, who may not have had the same impact as his contemporaries but still directed an awesome trifecta of movies, starting off with Action Jackson (1988) which was followed by Dark Angel a.k.a. I Come in Peace (1990) and then Stone Cold (1991).
More recently we have had Sam Hargrave who gave us the action packed Extraction (2020) and of course there’s Chad Stahelski and David Leitch who made an extreme impact on action cinema with the now classic John Wick (2014). What these films all prove is that clearly these are the best guys for the job, with a clear understanding of what makes an action scene work, something that is sorely lacking in many so called A-list directors’ work.
Like those mentioned, Perry not only perfectly handles the film’s numerous action scenes, but has a firm grip on the drama and comedy as well, taking inspiration from Hong Kong action films, buddy cop movies and slapstick comedy all the while being mixed with a good helping of blood and guts.
I first became aware of J.J. “Loco” Perry years ago through U.K publication Impact who ran an article on him. From then I was always pleased when his name would show up in a production, as it gave it an air of quality. I’m glad after all these years paying his dues he’s been given the opportunity to direct.
Marking his second Netflix movie after Project Power (2020), Jamie Foxx plays Bud Jablonski, a supposed pool cleaner. Secretly he works as a vampire hunter, a career path that has contributed to the collapse of his marriage to Jocelyn (Meagan Good), as he has to continuously lie about his whereabouts.
Jablonski used to be a member of a union of Vampire Hunters, but has since been dropped because of one to many mishaps. Now he is freelance, trying to scrape together any money he can. When he hears that Jocelyn is planning to move to Florida, which would mean taking their daughter Paige (Zion Broadnax) with her, Bud must get cash quickly to make them stay.
After reaching out to old army buddy Big John (Snoop Dogg), Bud is given a last chance to join the union, although under certain conditions. The main one of these is that he is to be accompanied by union rep Seth (Dave Franco), an office worker not cut out for field work. Given the unwanted day shift, Bud now has to hunt vampires, whilst at the same time looking out for the inept Seth.
Unbeknownst to Bud, there is also an Alpha Vampire (Karla Souza) hunting him down because of something he did to her previously, with her going after his family. Now Bud has to not only try and make enough money and keep the union happy, but protect his family from his secret life.
Day Shift doesn’t waste any time in getting to the vampire action, with Perry kicking things off with a bloody bang. The initial fight scene between Foxx and an elderly female vampire is a perfect taster for what’s to come, not only showing you the type of action you’re in store for but also lets the audience know the capabilities of this movie’s vampires who are somewhat different from what we’ve come to expect.
Included in the scene is a fantastic mirror gag that I won’t spoil here, but it’s something I have wanted to see in a vampire movie for years and makes such sense that it’s a wonder no one has thought of it before.
The action from here just gets better and better, with the standout being when Foxx and Franco join up with Scott Adkins and Steve Howey’s Nazarian brothers to take out a nest of vampires. It has all the bloodshed and acrobatic martial arts you would expect from Adkins involvement, while at the same time being painfully hilarious.
The action isn’t all focused on martial arts and gunplay, with there being a well executed car chase in the 2nd act that is full of vehicular mayhem, with the only drawback being the implementation of some slightly under par CGI.
Unlike many vampire movies, Day Shift is a brightly colored action adventure, with the sun-split streets of the San Fernando Valley almost matching the gaudy shirts that Foxx wears throughout the film. Perry, along with his director of photography Toby Oliver gives proceedings a sunny and vibrant look, with the majority of the film taking place during the day which is a refreshing change for a vampire movie.
It wouldn’t matter how good the film looked or how well done the action was if Perry didn’t construct a quality cast. Bud is a more fitting role for Foxx than what he played in his previous Netflix starer Project Power. Seemingly ageing backwards, the 54 year old Foxx takes part in countless action scenes, taking a fair bit of punishment. Now I’m not expecting that it was all him in the action, but he does appear to be doing a lot of the moves himself.
As well as capably handling the action, Foxx also gets to include much of his trademark humor, reminding audiences that while he is a first class actor, he is also a comedian at heart. This especially comes into play with his scenes alongside Dave Franco, who makes for the perfect foil to Foxx. With Franco’s introduction, the film essentially becomes a buddy movie, with the mismatched duo having to survive each other as much as the vampires.
Franco gets a lot of mileage out of the initially cowardly Seth, with him even coming into his own towards the finale, with him getting involved in some impressive action. He and Foxx work especially well together, with them even getting in a Miami Vice joke where Franco compares them to Crockett and Tubbs, very meta considering Foxx’s involvement with the movie adaptation.
Most martial arts movie fans were no doubt looking forward to Scott Adkins’ role. Some may be disappointed as he only appears in one scene, but as mentioned previously, it’s a cracker. He and Perry have quite a long history, with Perry years before choreographing the fight scenes for Undisputed 2 (2006). They have since worked together on a number of occasions, and although it would be great for Adkins to have a meatier role, Perry should still be given credit for casting him in a mainstream feature.
Steve Howey also impresses as the other half of the Nazarian brothers, with him actually able to hold his own in the action, no mean feat when working alongside Adkins. There is definite potential for these two characters to appear in a spin off movie, and I think many would be down for seeing this come to fruition.
Karla Souza does what she can with her role as the film’s main villain, but isn’t given a great deal to do, with her being unconvincing as someone Foxx should be afraid off. Natasha Liu Bordizzo fares much better, showing off considerable fighting skills during the lengthy finale, even if she isn’t given much in the way of character development.
Rounding out the cast is Snoop Dogg, who is not exactly known for his acting ability, with him usually just playing a variation of himself. You could argue he is essentially doing the same here, but there are some variations to his character and Snoop Dogg appears to relish the opportunity to play the action hero. His screen time is limited but he lights up the screen whenever he appears.
This is the second film to come from 87Eleven Entertainment in just a couple of weeks, following quickly on the heels of the equally great Bullet Train. Like that film, there is a fine mix between comedy and action, and it’s just a shame that it went straight to Netflix as this is a film that would definitely benefit from being seen with a crowd.
I am already seeing some negative feedback for Day Shift, so perhaps I am in the minority or am seriously out of touch of what constitutes a quality action movie. For me Day Shift ticked every box, and while the script may not be the most original, Perry’s execution made up for it.
Like Bullet Train, there may be some turned off by Day Shift’s black comic delights, but for those who grew up on the likes of Big Trouble in Little China (1986), The Lost Boys (1987) and From Dusk till Dawn (1996), or are just lovers of action movies in general are in for a blast.
Hopefully Day Shift proves to be enough of a success to allow Perry the opportunity to direct further features. He clearly has the talent for it and is already a better director than some who have been doing it for years.
Plot: 3.5/5 Acting: 4.5/5 Action: 4.5/5 Overall: 4/5