This Looks Terrible! Bright (2017)
I believe that it is mean and wrong to make fun of people based on their physical appearance with the notable exception of the stupid fucking hair of Max Landis, who is known primarily for being awful and sexist on the internet, and to a much lesser extent, writing gimmicky scripts that ignite the feverish greed of the morons running Hollywood.
There are so, so many reasons to hate Max Landis, like his notorious online tantrum over the characterization of Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens as a “Mary Sue”, or a character who figures as a creature of fantasy, wish fulfillment and a creator’s narcissistic self-projection rather than anything resembling a realistic human being. Then again, considering Landis’ famously shitty, sexist personality, it’s entirely possible that he’s trying to “neg” Daisy Ridley, the actress who plays Rey, or possibly the entire Star Wars fanbase as a way of annoying his way into their respective pants.
How exquisitely ironic that a would-be Enfant terrible who whines and complains about a more successful filmmaker’s female character being improbably, impossibly, glibly perfect and hyper-competent in every way would write, in his universally reviled new Netflix original movie Bright, a sloppy inter-species buddy comedy team where both halves "unexpectedly" turn out to be magical figures of destiny.
I would feel bad about giving away the twists to Bright but here’s the thing. As someone who has written about films professionally for over two decades, I have never seen it as my job, or duty, or responsibility, to tell people whether or not to see movies. That’s on you, brother. That's on you, sister. I don’t know what’s going on in the insane asylum inside your mind, so how the hell would I know whether or not you’d like a movie?
I am making an exception right now to tell everybody not to see the movie Bright. I’m not asking, I’m telling you. For your own good. Heck, this is one time when I do know what your response to a movie will be. Watching Bright will make you bored. Then sad. Then angry at how much money and talent was wasted. Then you’ll feel sleepy and hungry and go into the next room and make yourself a Dagwood sandwich as towering as the very heavens themselves! Then finally you’ll become so angry that you’ll hurl the laptop you were watching it on against the wall, shattering it into a million little pieces, just like that fictionalized James Frey memoir My Friend Leonard. You’ve got a lot of important stuff on there, including your wedding speech.
I don’t want you to go through that roller coaster of emotions, mostly negative, before destroying valuable technology, so I’m putting my foot down as your movie dad and forbidding you to see Bright. How much do I dislike Bright? If Netflix goes ahead and makes a sequel to it as planned I am not only going to cancel my Netflix subscription but I’m going to launch a boycott of Netflix on moral and creative grounds.
I will delete the fuck out of my account in protest. Don’t test me. A motherfucker will be at the library renting Albert Nobbs on DVD before he’ll financially support a sequel to Bright even in the most abstract sense. I know what you’re probably thinking: “Hey, it’s free, right? Shouldn’t I see for myself if it could possibly be as bad as everyone says?” Yes, it’s free, but no, you should not waste a fucking second of your life watching Bright. I’m not even sure you should be reading about it. Stay away! Stay away!
In the biggest illustration that we’re living in the Era of the Reverse Meritocracy since the rancid orange Bloviator was elected President over a slightly more qualified rival, Max Landis was paid three and a half million dollars for the film’s abysmal screenplay. That’s Joe Eszterhas in the early 1990s money for sub-Joe Eszterhas-in-the-early-1990s quality. Why must our most richly compensated screenwriters also be our worst and most personally loathsome?
The more or less uniformly panned screenplay Landis got three and a half million dollars for inhabits a world where humans, Fairies, Orcs and Elves all uncomfortably co-inhabit the “gritty”, “bustling”, “urban” “Los Angeles” director David Ayer surveyed much more successfully with earlier efforts like Training Day (which he wrote and did not direct), Fast & The Furious, Dark Blue, Harsh Times, Street Kings and End of Watch.
It’s funny how a terrible movie can change the way a director is perceived. Before Suicide Squad, Ayer was a respected writer and director of gritty action dramas that addressed the complicated racial and socio-economic realities of life among criminals and cops in Los Angeles’ meanest streets.
Then Suicide Squad came and Ayer suddenly became the asshole who made Suicide Squad. Bright continues Ayer’s creative losing streak in a way that made me retroactively like his earlier, more successful films less. Bright feels like bad self-parody. Though it once again addresses the unwritten and written codes of conduct among communities of hard, jaded men of violence, a recurring theme in Ayer’s work, this suggest the director’s true hallmark is making mediocre to sub-mediocre action movies where interchangeable cops chase crudely stereotyped black and hispanic gangsters and drug dealers through the near total darkness of alleyways and hallways.
In Bright, the cops doing that chasing through all that darkness are Daryl Ward (Will Smith, re-upping after a disastrous stint as part of Ayer’s Suicide Squad), and Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), the very first Orc police officer, as a publicity stunt.
At this point you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Hey, that sound exactly like the plot of Theodore Rex. Is Bright like Theodore Rex only much worse?” Yes. You would be right in that assertion. Daryl is only five years away from retirement, and the last damn thing he needs is some mythological creature, however well-meaning, fucking up his pension.
In Bright Will Smith plays not just the stock Will Smith character but the stock Will Smith cop character. He’s a cynical, foul-mouthed smart-ass with a heart of gold who spends a lot of the movie beating up mythological beasties, you know, not unlike he did in Men in Black. And Men in Black II. And Men in Black III. And also in the movie Independence Day. True, Smith opted out of the Independence Day sequel but don’t worry: with Bright, he’s still keeping up with his quota of shitty science-fiction/fantasy movies where he glibly dispenses one-liners while pointing a gun at inhuman creatures. Hell, in Suicide Squad, one of his colleagues was an alligator-monster. Another was Slipknot, the man who can climb anything. Suicide Squad was flaming hot garbage and it’s still infinitely superior to Bright. At least it had Margot Robbie.
With Bright, the generic Will Smith cop movie (you may know him from such mismatched buddy cop comedies as Bad Boys, Bad Boys II and potentially the perpetually delayed third entry in the Bad Boys saga) fuses with the generic David Ayer tough cops on the edge thriller and the very shittiest kind of fantasy for the least palatable twist on cop mythology since Cop Rock, which I feel the need to state is also better than Bright.
Bright would like very much to use science fiction and fantasy and a world where the races now include Elves, Fairies and Orcs to comment on our own complicated and painful racial dynamics, as evidenced by a beyond-clumsy early scene where Daryl smacks a flying Fairy and then quips, “Fairy Lives Don’t Matter today!”
The problem is that Bright doesn’t comment upon racism so much as it glibly exploits it. The Orcs embody a lot of negative stereotypes associated with African-American and Hispanics, although, for good measure, the Hispanic characters here also embody a lot of negative stereotypes involving Mexicans, most notably in a crazy-eyed, wheelchair-bound neighborhood kingpin who wants to use a magic wand to fix his legs and non-working penis.
Bright did surprise me at times. For example, at one point an ominous Orc gang leader asks Nick for the location of a magic wand I rolled my eyes and I mouthed, “Up your ass!” when, in fact, Landis threw me a tricky knuckle ball because the noble Orc pioneer actually replies, “Up your motherfucking ass.” Whole different thing.
Daryl’s corrupt colleagues (in Ayer movies, about 60 percent of all cops are corrupt) want him to turn on his partner to make everyone’s life easier but after spending forty-five minute being an unusually racist, obnoxious version of the character Will Smith pretty much plays in every movie other than Six Degrees of Separation, our hero makes a miraculous, bracingly abrupt transformation and goes from being his poor, overwhelmed partner’s biggest headache to being his best friend and salvation.
Bright is a curious beast: a ninety million dollar would-be action blockbuster, tentpole and franchise starter that will overwhelmingly be seen on laptop screens and small television screens, possibly by people doing their laundry, like my colleague Clint. That would be a shame if Bright did not feel unmistakably like a sub-mediocre pilot to the kind of quickly cancelled basic cable television show that is mourned by geeks and rightfully ignored by everyone else.
As in Suicide Squad, Ayer and his cinematographer shoot the film in almost total darkness that, alas, does a terrible job of hiding the almost amateurish nature of the make-up and character design. I see more impressive make-up at the Gathering of the Juggalos every year. The level of intellectual discourse is much higher there as well.
Bright represents much of what made 2017 terrible on both a cultural and pop-culture level. It costs way too much money and looks way too damned cheap. It tries to be provocative and shocking and timely in its exploration of our complicated racial world but just ends up being confused and unintentionally pretty racist. In an online world that runs on anger and rage as much, if not more, than geeky enthusiasm, it begs to be hate-watched and ridiculed more than enjoyed.
It was written by someone with an almost impressively terrible public image even before he was recently accused of sex crimes and abuse who has been received enough compensation and validation for ten lifetimes despite being what Bill Murray would deem a Medium Talent. It seems somehow all too appropriate that Bright got the insane validation of a green light for a sequel even before it debuted on the streaming giant.
Thankfully there’s still time for Netflix to course-correct. There’s still plenty of time to turn that green light into a red so this final portion of my article is directed solely at Netflix: Netflix, cancel the Bright sequel and delete Bright from your site. Pretend it never happened. Apologize to humanity for making that movie and make amends with everyone you’ve hurt through that behavior, starting with me. I may find it in my heart to forgive you, someday, Bright, but not unless you begin the process of closure by admitting your mistake. Your terrible, terrible, but not completely unforgivable mistake.
Would you like to listen to Nathan and Clint talk about Bright and Suicide Squad on the latest Nathan Rabin's Happy Cast? Then you can do so over at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/nathan-rabins-happy-cast/id1312945471?mt=2
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