‘DC League of Super-Pets’, ‘Day Shift’ & ‘Orphan: First Kill’- Movie Review Round-Up

August was the slowest month getting through. The trips to the theater were minimal, which meant spending more time catching up on what I missed in theaters or on streaming. Today, it’s another post about a few movies I watched last month. About half the last time I did one of these, but I’m sharing my thoughts on DC League of Super-PetsDay Shift, and Orphan: First Kill. I initially planned on Easter Sunday to be included, but it’s another one of those times where there’s no point in talking about a bad movie when there was no enthusiasm while writing it. Anyway, enjoy!

‘DC League of Super-Pets’

DC League of Super-Pets wasn’t precisely an animated movie I was dying to catch when they announced it. Kids love watching superheroes, and since most of them are intended to be dark for an older audience, why not have one to cater to both fans of comic book heroes and animals? Warner Animated Group already gets points for how enjoyable The Lego Batman Movie and, surprisingly, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies in making the best of both worlds work. And with a movie based on the team of Legion of Super-Pets from the DC Universe, all I was wondering was how this made it to a theatrical release instead of streaming straight to HBO Max or Cartoon Network.

What’s the Story: Krypto (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) has been inseparable best friends for life with Clark Kent/ Superman (voiced by John Krasinski) since they needed each other most after the destruction of their planet Krypton. With the same powers and saving the Earth from destruction, Superman might be ready to pop the question to his girlfriend Lois Lane, to which Krypto fears he’ll lose what’s most important to him. But Metropolis is in danger when a hairless guinea pig named Lulu (voiced by Kate McKinnon) escapes from a pet shelter with a piece of orange kryptonite that gives superpowers to pets only and uses it to capture the entire Justice League. To save the day after having his powers taken away, Krypto must work with a group of misfit shelter pets who have developed powers, including the boxer Ace (voiced by Kevin Hart), the pig PB (voiced by Vanessa Bayer), the squirrel Chip (voiced by Diego Luna), and the nearsighted turtle Merton (voiced by Natasha Lyonne).

It’s a different approach not to have the attention on the actual Justice League themselves but to watch their non-human counterparts learn to control their newfound powers and learn a valuable lesson about friendship and teamwork along the way. That’s pretty much what everyone will get if they choose to watch DC League of Super-Pets, and I would’ve had fun with this when this came out when I was in fourth or fifth grade. I looked at the trailers, immediately thinking it’ll be The Secret Life of Pets with superpowers. I was correct. This wasn’t anything special to fall in love with for someone who loves animals (dogs, especially) and superheroes released projects. Everything director Jared Stern and John Whittington’s script provides enough fun for its young audience, but it lacked so much originality and was very predictable where everything was heading. And even the animation came across as bland, which made me wish for better action that doesn’t have a lame scale to them. And it’s one of those times when the humor, puns or taking jabs at other properties, failed to make me laugh. The unexpected times I chuckled came from Natasha Lyonne’s Merton swearing, but they bleeped the words out. Rarely does that happen in a kids’ movie, but at least it’s something for the adults.

Dwayne Johnson does a good vocal performance as Krypto, and this was another team-up with Kevin Hart (Central Intelligence and the Jumanji movies), who voices Ace. This was actually one of the rare times where Hart’s voice didn’t annoy me when he did a great job. Kate McKinnon as Lulu ate this role up in one of the comedian’s better cartoon performances, and though this under-used Keanu Reeves as Batman, and his jokes didn’t exactly make me laugh, I did like seeing a funnier side to the character. Lots of prominent names in the cast, but the four I mentioned stood out from the rest. 

For a late summer animation, DC League of Super-Pets never came across as bad, but rather generic for a movie like this to be at least good from my perspective. It shows the bonding between humans and pets that’ll appeal to those in real life, and it is the perfect movie to sit your kids in front of. Though I feel there are better-animated superhero films easy to latch onto than this, unfortunately (Big Hero 6The Incredibles, etc.). I’m still waiting for that one movie this year to love, ultimately. 

Grade: [C+]

DC League of Super-Pets is now available to rent and buy On Demand. Runtime: 105 Minutes. Rated PG for action, mild violence, language, and rude humor. Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures.

‘Day Shift’

While watching Netflix’s latest Day Shift, all I could think about was what was the last good vampire movie we had. Signs definitely didn’t point towards Morbius or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter? Maybe the underrated Fright Night remake or What We Do In the Shadows? What I know nowadays is that you need to make the blood-drinking monsters cool in entertainment again. If this was their attempt to make them serious in an action-buddy comedy way, something must be wrong with me since I had difficulty clicking to whatever this was.

Set in the San Fernando Valley, Bud Jablonski (Jamie Foxx) is a blue-collar man spending his days working as a pool cleaner. But this is only used as a cover to hunt and kill vampires, selling their teeth for hard cash. It’s a profession he keeps secret from his estranged wife Jocelyn (Meagan Good) and their daughter Paige (Zion Broadnax). But Bud might be out of luck in spending precious time with her when Jocelyn could move to Florida and needs $10,000 for tuition and braces in less than a week. Bud is re-instated into the union with the aid of his friend Big John Elliot (Snoop Dogg), and is now under the watchful eye of the nerdy union rep and vampire expert Seth (Dave Franco) to ensure that he doesn’t break any rules. The two of them together hunt on the day shift with an uber-vampire/real estate agent named Audrey San Fernando (Karla Souza) seeking revenge.

Day Shift is the directorial debut of stuntman J.J. Perry, and it’s another one of these actions movie produced by Chad Stahelski. And it sounds promising on paper, like Kingsman with vampires with this underground organization, only to leave you feeling like a waste of two hours. They did not explain how vampires and humans are living in this world or give a real reason to care at all about Bud’s mission. The script by Tyler Vice and Shay Hatten (Army of the Dead) doesn’t get points for how unoriginal it comes to be as it continues on that didn’t have me being the smartest person in the room to know what will come next with these characters.

The action wasn’t as captivating as I thought, but there’s one sequence in the second act involving a hive house filled with different breeds of vampires that were the most fun out of all of them, which is why it’s a bloody R-rated for a reason. That set piece, in particular, showed off some well-done practical effects and some creative enough kills that impressed me. But, unfortunately, everything didn’t “wow” me afterward, from a car chase with some laughably fake explosions and a climatic battle that was less remarkable and more lackluster.

Jamie Foxx seems to like that Netflix money after previously starring in the forgettable Project Power and that one canceled sitcom I didn’t bother watching, but he was able to elevate the weak material into this caring badass dude that has one purpose for billing vamps. Dave Franco, who looked a lot like his brother in this, makes for the annoying sidekick to Foxx as the pacifist, by-the-numbers rep out of his element that’s there to be the butt of many punchlines. Really none of the comedy made me smile, though the one laugh I got was hearing Seth’s ringtone set to Nickelback’s “Photograph.” But they really underused Snoop Dogg, who I didn’t notice disappeared in the second act, and the same goes for Natasha Liu Bordizzo since they showed her in action in the last 20 minutes.

The downside of not being that good and not getting much out of it has a pretty lousy villain. Karla Souza of Home Economics fame isn’t to blame, but her character wasn’t anywhere near a threatening vampire baddie with a dumb motivation and speaking the most cliched villain dialogue ever. And the third act dragged where it started to make me dislike it more into an underwhelming conclusion. I didn’t care what was happening since it was another lazy Netflix action movie I didn’t need a sequel to. 

Day Shift has some cool ideas enough at play to make for a guilty pleasure. But aside from a couple of fun action set pieces, it’s a vampire movie to essentially skip because of a poor, by-the-numbers script that won’t make it passable.

Grade: [C-]

Day Shift is now streaming on Netflix. Runtime: 113 Minutes. Rated R for strong violence and gore, and language. Studio: Netflix.

‘Orphan: First Kill’

Finally, How can it be possible to make a follow-up to Orphan is the question I had in mind when Orphan: First Kill was announced. Nobody was prepared for how insane the Jaume Collet Serra’s 2009 original would be, and it was undoubtedly a horror movie I couldn’t believe I didn’t hate. That was largely thanks to a creepy Isabelle Fuhrman performance as Esther and quite possibly one of the most memorable twists in the genre. I remember watching it after I bought the DVD for my mom for Christmas. The first movie alone managed to do two things for parents: Never look at adoption the same way ever again or never naming girls Esther. For a prequel to come out thirteen years later, it has to be fall-on entertaining cheese to look over basics to consider this worthy of our attention. And sometimes, I never liked movies focusing on how villains came to be. Those shallow expectations might’ve helped since this wasn’t that bad.

The film opens in Estonia in early 2007, where Leena Klammer (Fuhrman) is a patient at a psychiatric facility. She escapes by killing a couple of guards and takes on the identity of the missing daughter of a wealthy Connecticut family named Esther Albright. Found in Moscow, the mother Tricia (Julia Stiles) brings her home with her husband Alan (Rossif Sutherland) and their oldest son Gunner (Matthew Finlan) to give her a normal life again. The secret? Leena suffers from a rare hormonal disorder called hypopituitarism, where she appears as a child where she’s actually a woman in her early 30s.

What you’re seeing out of Orphan: First Kill is ridiculous, and that might’ve been intentional in trying not to take everything a bit seriously. They even tell you her condition five minutes in, just in case those haven’t caught the reveal prior. We see Leena manipulating this family as their daughter in hopes of not thinking she’s a different person who resembles their missing loved one. Director William Brent Bell doesn’t have the best track record in the horror field, specifically The Devil Inside and its all-time worst ending, but he and writer David Coggeshall surprisingly don’t repeat the first despite a few familiar aspects. The critical question is whether it becomes believable that we’re looking at a nine-year-old Esther. That was a concern because Fuhrman was age 12 when it first came out. Now, she’s 25, a year younger than me. So, the plot hole that is easy to catch is how she will look younger in two years. Just when it was going to be traditional, they laid out the twist pretty early in a totally unexpected direction. In my mind, I was initially worried the rest of the movie lost the element of surprise, but while it was predictable where it was heading, that’s what made it fun.

Fuhrman seamlessly injects that creepy tension into the role that took her career off the ground. She was believable in the first, but now she’s capable enough to play this trick of an older woman playing a little girl. I had to wonder how they made it work, and I’m sure they used a body double and forced perspectives to try to look convincing to the audience. To us, we know she’s an adult, and that’s part of the actress’s approach to the performance, committed to this without missing a beat. Julia Stiles gives one of her finest performances that goes in a campy direction that’s so unexpected from her, matched with Fuhrman in their scenes together straight out of a soap opera. Rossif Sutherland and Matthew Finlan were fine but definitely the weakest of the ensemble with their characters.

Was it as creepy as that first? Not entirely, since this wasn’t that scary and the twist will hinge on your enjoyment. There are some plot details I had to keep in mind for someone who feels like watching the original, and the third act climax gives some bad fire effects. Out of the two films, Collet Serra is a much better director than Bell. Not everybody knew it was coming out, whether in theaters or Paramount+. I don’t think my mom knows about it. But I didn’t mind watching it at home because this was a decent way to spend 92 minutes.

Overall, Orphan: First Kill may not have carried on the staying power of the original. Still, with its flaws, it’s an entertaining enough prequel with Fuhrman’s performance and embracing the silliness of it all. Above anything else, I’d say this IS a movie I can call a guilty pleasure. 

Grade: [B-]

Orphan: First Kill is now playing in select theaters, available to rent/buy, and streaming on Paramount+. Runtime: 99 Minutes. Rated R for bloody violence, language and brief sexual content. Studio: Paramount Pictures.

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