Honestly, it gives me genuine hope that something as fucking awful as Bright can still get made. This is a movie that people believed in. Especially screenwriter Max Landis: you can tell just from how proudly the script presents all of its baffling, confused world-building and social satire, like a three-year-old coated head to toe in fingerpaint and raising up a sheet of paper scrawled with incoherent brown swirls, all while wearing the biggest beaming smile on his face. And you can definitely tell from his social media boosting of the project.

But I think lots of people believed in it: Netflix believed in it enough for this to be the movie where they tried to prove that they could compete with the big theatrically-released blockbuster movies; co-star Joel Edgerton believed in it enough to invest his ridiculous character with a sad gravitas, which he has to spit over the prosthetic teeth he's wearing, and you can absolutely tell from the sonic quality of the words both how much effort it takes Edgerton to speak, and how much he has faith that the effort is worth it. The makeup effects artists, who've made it to the shortlist for Oscar recognition for their efforts, believed in it, or at least they poured their souls into it just for the sheer pleasure of creating a world full of fantasy creatures who look damn good, even if the prosthetic teeth weren't 100% of the way to where they needed to be for the actors.

This is the kind of fervent, sincere belief that is an absolute requirement of the best bad movies, the ones we'll still remember and watch years from now, the ones that you gawk at while asking with a half-laugh, half-grimace, "what the hell were they doing?" This is also an absolute requirement of the best good movies, to be sure, but there's little risk of confusing Bright for one of those. No, this is a fucking trainwreck, one that starts off on the wrong foot and keeps tripping and stumbling and smacking into walls, and those just don't happen. Certainly, not at this budgetary level (officially, Bright cost $90 million) - Hollywood corporations these days are too good at being conservative and responsible, and if it means that very, very few big-ticket studio productions are actually all that good, it means that even fewer of them are genuinely apeshit terrible the way that Bright is apeshit terrible.

So what makes Bright so horrible? "Everything" is a cop-out answer, and it's also not quite true (the makeup and Edgerton are both fine), but it gets us on the way. The film's inordinately high concept takes place in a world much like our own, except that humans have co-existed with several fantasy species for at least the last couple of millennia: elves, orcs, and fairies are the ones we see, but dwarfs are also mentioned, and maybe a couple of others I was too busy chattering with my viewing companion about how unrelentingly terrible the dialogue was to notice. In Fantasy 2017, in Fantasy Los Angeles, these species exist in an approximation of our real-world race and class divisions: the elves are the cultural and economic elite, humans are middle-class and low-class whites, orcs are African-Americans, except when they're Mexican-Americans, except when Mexican humans are Mexican-Americans. So we have problem #1, which is that this desperately wants to be taken seriously a metaphorical construction examining systemic racism and other social ills in 21st Century America, except that it hasn't worked out what the metaphor is actually supposed to be doing.

Problem #2 follows quickly, which is that, even as a narrative universe that exists solely in reference to itself, Bright doesn't make sense. It's a film that's giddy at the idea of world-building, which it does through things like fantasy-tinged graffiti and lots of oblique references to cultural practices that imply a richer society than the one we see, but it's very shitty at actual word-building. Basically, Landis has just used the nouns from J.R.R. Tolkien to replace the nouns from every L.A. cop movie ever made, including substantial plot lifts from the films written and directed by Bright's own director, David Ayer, who has succeeded in making his all-time worst film out of a career that includes not single project I particularly admire. But Ayer's not the one who killed Bright. He's just the one who gave up on it.

At any rate, the world Bright takes place in makes no sense by itself, and it makes no sense as a fantasy mirror as our own, and that's where we start. It was poisoned and corrupted before the first beat of the plot was written down. Anyway, it's every single film about mismatched cops divided by race, only now the racist white cop is a black cop played by Will Smith (who exerts the minimal effort required to put over the role, and looks extremely tired), the black cop is the first-ever police orc in the LAPD, played by Edgerton, and the clichés are at least mildly disguised by the high fantasy paint. The high fantasy clichés, however, are all present and accounted for: ancient prophecies, beings called "brights" who are the only people capable of channeling magical energies, a conspiracy to revive the Dark Lord who was imprisoned two-thousand years ago, leading to the current wary peace between the races.

There were two ways for this to go. The one that the filmmakers obviously counted on was that the contrast between cop movie boilerplate and fantasy novel boilerplate was going to create something electrifying and new. Instead, it merely showcases how unbelievably threadbare the writing is. Also, instead of that $90 million going to create a magical, transformed version of Los Angeles, the paint-by-numbers cop movie settings and costumes just makes all the fantasy CGI appear cheap and goofy. Add in the amazingly bad dialogue - the magic wand at the center of the plot is described as "a nuclear weapon that grants wishes", Will Smith's already notorious "fairy lives don't matter", the endless trite "as far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a cop" dialogue that Edgerton treats like sacred writ, and every last attempt to do cunning, Tolkien-style world-building by having people puke up exposition without trying to laugh at the nerdy twaddle Landis has given them, like a 13-year-old fanfic writer trying to cross-breed Training Day and Harry Potter - and we basically have an Asylum-quality genre film on a real-movie budget and with a real movie's cast and crew. It's humiliatingly bad from the conception up, an all-round boondoggle of the first order.