(CNN)"Bright" is a bloated, expensive mess, a Netflix movie with blockbuster aspirations and faerie-sized brains. Loud, derivative and thoroughly unexciting, the streaming service has thrown money at this Will Smith vehicle, and merely bought itself a whole lot of embarrassment.
Netflix's 'Bright' casts Will Smith in dim thriller
The plot, such as it is, is basically a retread of "Alien Nation," the 1988 sci-fi movie that subsequently became a TV series. Only here, the buddy-cop formula involves a human, Smith's Ward, paired with the Los Angeles Police Dept.'s first Orc, Jakoby (Joel Edgerton, buried under uninspired makeup).
The two live in an alternate present-day reality where mythical-type creatures, like Orcs and Elves, have evolved alongside the human population, sharing a dank, sprawling metropolis. And no surprise, there's plenty of discrimination and hostility toward Ward's partner, described by another cop as "the diversity hire you ride with."
Directed by David Ayer (who makes his much-derided "Suicide Squad" look better by comparison) and written by Max Landis, "Bright" derives its name from a mysterious wand-wielding race, with that magical artifact becoming the source of what amounts to a movie-long chase. It all has something to do with a plan to revive the Dark Lord and throw the world into chaos, although frankly, it would be hard to appear much more chaotic than the movie itself.
Ayer certainly doesn't scrimp on action, but much of it is shot so murkily as to undermine the thrills. The general atmosphere feels like an episode of "Gotham" wedded to a modern-day "Lord of the Rings." By the time they engage in a pitched battle within a strip club, the clichés are piling up as fast as the bodies.
"Bright" marks Netflix's latest excursion into big-budget filmmaking, but it's such a muddled concept as to suggest that the service would be better off tinkering with art-house items and Adam Sandler comedies until it can figure out a coherent strategy. Wherever Netflix goes from here, movies like "Bright" shouldn't become a hobbit -- er, habit.
"I want my life back," Ward protests near the end. Those who make it all the way through "Bright" will likely share those sentiments, even if it just amounts to wanting those two hours back.
"Bright" premieres Dec. 22 on Netflix.