The Beekeeper review: an awful, hilarious Jason Statham action movie
“An imbecilic and inept pileup of action-movie clichés redeemed only by the occasional hilarity of its excess.”
- The action is clumsy
- The dialogue is worse
- It looks cheap as hell
When the hero of your action movie is a ruthless killing machine, it helps for the bad guys to be thoroughly, well, unsympathetic. Which is to say, the more despicable the bullet, blade, and chokehold fodder, the better. On that front, at least, The Beekeeper spectacularly delivers. The most novel aspect of this quintessentially January junk is that the villains are … tele-scammers, bilking helpless old ladies out of their life’s savings. The movie opens with one of these swindles, which casts Phylicia Rashad as the target of a cybercrime operation conducted from a call center that looks like a cheaper version of the surveillance room in a Jason Bourne movie. If watching a smirking Jordan Belfort type (David Witts) rip off a kindly retiree doesn’t stoke your bloodlust, nothing will.
The sleeping giant awakened by these unscrupulous phishers is one Adam Clay (Jason Statham), who harvests honey with monk-like grace in rural America. Statham does Zen calm like a ravenous dog forced to heel for a treat; you can almost see the saliva gathering around the edges of his chiseled, stubbled jaw as he feigns harmlessness during the film’s lone bloodless stretch. Would it surprise anyone to learn that Clay is not just a beekeeper, but also a Beekeeper, aka the byproduct of a secret government program that trains mythic killers so unstoppable that they make the average Navy SEAL look like an Eagle Scout? His is not a nest you want to kick — or a hive you want to pump full of lead.
Still tracing thin blue lines more than 20 years after he wrote Training Day, director David Ayer has made a special kind of folly this time: an imbecilic and inept pileup of action-movie clichés redeemed only by the occasional hilarity of its caveman excess. The Beekeeper blatantly aspires to the throne of John Wick, but can’t muster any of the style, craft, or movie star charisma of that franchise. It does, however, have Jason Statham buzz-sawing a twerpy data miner’s fingers off, chaining him to a pickup truck, and then racing the truck off a cliff.
After literally burning down the call center that drove his elderly neighbor to suicide, Statham’s Clay discovers that the racket goes straight to the top. Pulling the strings is a dynastic brat mogul played by Josh Hutcherson, who literally glides into the movie on a skateboard. Linking a shady tech world to the political sphere, The Beekeeper has the delusional mania of a deep-state rant — at last, a macho working-class hero has come to drain the swamp! At the same time, hatred for Silicon Valley robber barons is a rather bipartisan position. And though many actual phishing scams are run overseas, the movie very carefully positions its own as an American operation, sparing itself the optics of a British strongman mowing down Indian operators.
Clay also has to evade the Rashad character’s grieving daughter (The Umbrella Academy‘s Emmy Raver-Lampman), an FBI agent saddled with some of the script’s worst howlers — a stream of boilerplate buddy-cop quips. The dialogue defeats everyone, even Jeremy Irons as the villain’s reluctant, old-money fixer. The luckiest in the cast log a quick appearance before disappearing without a trace — Minnie Driver literally phones in her two-scene performance. There’s an abundance of bee-related wordplay to go with the bee-related mythology: Clay is obsessed with “protecting the hive,” until he becomes a “queenslayer.” And guess which famous line of Shakespeare gets repurposed as a one-liner?
The Beekeeper has all the goofiness of John Wick with none of the glory; it may be the ultimate example yet of how Hollywood has learned the wrong lessons from the success of that series. The action here is amusingly cartoonish, drifting into slapstick gore, but it’s also tightly framed and indifferently choreographed. When the film drags out a second Beekeeper done up like a Ninja Turtles villain, the gas station tussle is anticlimactic and spatially confusing. At another point, extras can be seen standing around listlessly in the background as Clay effortlessly dispatches a whole S.W.A.T. team in broad daylight.
Though he didn’t pen the screenplay (that dishonor belongs to Kurt Wimmer, the man behind the keyboard of the Total Recall and Point Break remakes), Ayer hasn’t strayed far from his usual queasy admiration for cops, soldiers, and those who act above or outside the law to protect everyone from the truly bad. What he’s misplaced is his talent as an image maker — even the borderline incoherent Suicide Squad has some striking shots — as well as his affinity for legible gunplay. Befitting its scam artist heavies, The Beekeeper boasts the production values of a money-laundering scheme. The CGI explosions would have looked chintzy back when Statham was just modeling sportswear. The call centers resemble warehouses dressed like pop-up nightclubs.
The saving grace of this careless slop is how hilarious it often is. There’s a nonchalance to the violence that hovers on the edge of parody. When Clay first comes out of retirement, it’s with a canister of gasoline under each arm, as he calmly informs the headset wage slaves of his intention to blow the whole building they’re occupying sky-high. Later, he subjects another drone of the exploitative system to some particularly lazy stapler torture, lethargically slapping the guy with the device with all the energy he might expend on, well, stapling documents. The apathy is funny and appropriate — for a killer so skilled, he’s basically an Old Testament god, and for a movie star aware of how little effort this particular starring vehicle requires of him.
The Beekeeper opens in theaters everywhere Friday, June 12. For more of A.A. Dowd’s writing, visit his Authory page.