Diversity hire

‘Bright’ makes a crazy mythological cop fantasy actually work



Tempo grade: B-

The line between comedy and serious drama is as thin as a fairy’s wing, and in the new Netflix original movie, “Bright,” the difference is even thinner. That’s because the premise is so outlandish there cannot be anything gray about a gritty urban world where humans coexist alongside mythological creatures, such as elves, centaurs and orcs. 

The movie is a crazy mash-up of various genres that zip by so fast you might want to keep your lowly Muggle hand on the remote just to keep up. It’s like J.R.R Tolkein mixed with “Training Day” and “Alien Nation.”

Directed by action-movie director David Ayer (“End of Watch,” “Fury,” “Suicide Squad”) and written by Max Landis (son of director John Landis and costume designer Deborah Nadoolman), the story follows a worn out Los Angeles cop named Daryl Ward (Will Smith). On his first day back at work after being shot, Ward has to get into a cruiser with the partner whom he still blames for his injury. That partner is Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), an orc who is called a “diversity hire” because police department superiors are responding to higher-ups’ demands for more species variety. 

Obviously, part of the modus operandi for Ayer and Landis is to inject some racial allegory into this ultra-violent actioner. Sometimes this works, and sometimes it seems wielded with a sledgehammer in the hands of a five year old. This is illustrated by the massive bigotry expressed by fellow police officers toward anyone not-human, especially orcs whom they characterize as slow, dim-witted and lazy. On the street, they are often seen as thug-like gang members wrapped up in drugs, crime and prostitution.

For elves, there is animosity blended with extreme envy because in this world, they occupy the highest rungs of society. Ridiculously rich, aloof, beautiful and cunning, elves lord over the rest of the world with cool disdain.

Once we get through introductions of these issues and character traits, the story takes hold when a young elf named Tikka (Lucy Frye) is captured at a crime scene in which a Bright has been killed. A Bright, it seems, is a higher-order elf that possesses magical powers, usually by way of a super powerful magic wand, referred to by Jakoby as being “like a nuclear weapon that grants wishes.” Tikka has a wand and is terrified for her life. It seems that a powerful elf named Leilah (Noomi Rapace) and her cabalistic gang are after Tikka and the wand. The reason has to do with a conspiracy to conjure up the Dark Lord, who will take over the planet and quite possibly the universe.

Into this violent mess, Ward and Jakoby wind up having to defend themselves against Leilah, the feds and every cop in the city, at first to protect Tikka, and eventually just to stay alive.

This movie has been getting a lot of negative press from critics who have said it is messy, extremely derivative and virtually plotless. I disagree. Any sci-fi or fantasy movie requires more than a little suspension of disbelief. When you think about it, this doesn’t require any more disbelief than the latest “Star Wars” flick. Mostly, however, the ire of critics is probably centered on Landis, who has been the subject of sexual assault accusations by several women and who was paid a boatload of dough for his script.

In any event, Netflix has confidence in the fictional landscape of this film and has given a greenlight to a sequel.

“Bright” is rated TV-MA, which means this program is specifically designed to be viewed by adults and may be unsuitable for children under 17. It is available now on the Netflix streaming television service via subscription.