Producers: Bill Block, Jason Statham, David Ayer, Chris Long and Kurt Wimmer Director: David Ayer Screenplay: Kurt Wimmer Cast: Jason Statham, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Josh Hutcherson, Bobby Naderi, Minnie Driver, David Witts, Michael Epp, Taylor James, Jemma Redgrave, Enzo Cilenti, Phylicia Rashad, Jeremy Irons, Don Gilet and Megan Le Distributor: Amazon MGM Studios
Intentionally or not—and if you judge from the résumés of writer Kurt Winner and director David Ayer, probably not—this is an almost perfect parody of Jason Statham movies, by way of the “John Wick” franchise. But the joke of “The Beekeeper” runs thin fast, and by the close the movie has descended into a riot of imbecility one must see to believe. (Or, preferably, simply avoid.)
With Wick it was his beloved dog that was the catalyst; with Adam Clay (Jason Statham), it’s his sweet landlady Eloise Parker (Phylicia Rashad), at whose isolated farmhouse he rents a barn where he raises bees: she’s the only person who’s ever taken care of him, he explains. Poor Eloise commits suicide after she’s bled dry by a phishing scam, losing not only her own savings but the funds in a charity account she oversees. Her daughter, FBI Agent Verona (Emmy Raver-Lampman), at first considers Clay her mother’s killer, but is persuaded otherwise by the evidence. He’s released, bent on revenge against those responsible for Eloise’s death.
And he has the tools to succeed. It turns out Clay’s a retired Beekeeper—an ex-member of an organization of highly trained, single-minded agents tasked with taking action against corruption so great it’s beyond the reach of the regular authorities. Its origin is never explained, and even Wallace Westwyld (Jeremy Irons), the former Director of the CIA, had only tenuous connection to it. But with only a single call to its Director (Minnie Driver), Clay gets the address of the phishing boiler room that scammed Eloise, and proceeds to blow it up, leaving its surviving manager Mickey Garnett (David Witts) to get an order from his boss, yuppie entrepreneur Derek Danforth (Josh Hutcherson), to take Clay out. Predictably, his attempt to do so fails miserably. Verona and her partner Wiley (Bobby Naderi) are, of course, one step behind Clay.
Our hero now proceeds to the premier boiler room of Danforth’s operation in Boston, run by a manager named Rico (Enzo Cilenti) who’s even sleazier than Garnett. Despite platoons of cops, FBI special forces and a squad of elite troops put together by Westwyld (now head of security for the Danforth family) and led by a gruff guy named Pettis (Michael Epp), Clay not only destroys the place, taking down scads of opponents effortlessly in the process, but forces Rico to give up the name of his boss. Naturally, Verona and Wiley arrive late and are left empty-handed.
But with help from the aptly-named Prigg (Don Gilet), the deputy director of the DOJ, they fortify a beach house where Danforth has fled at Westwyld’s suggestion to seek the protection of his powerful mother (Jemma Redgrave) and her host of bodyguards. Clay nonetheless infiltrates a party being held there with absurd ease and, offing what appear to be hundreds of opponents, makes his way to young Danforth, taking care of Westwyld and his secret weapon, a maniacal assassin called Lazarus (Taylor James), in the process. The only question is whether Verona, faced with a choice between shooting him and letting him scuba off into the sunset, will choose justice over law. You already know the answer; after all, a door has to be left open for a sequel.
“The Beekeeper” pauses occasionally for Statham to deliver ludicrous pronouncements about protecting the hive or kicking the hornets’ nest, but after its slow-as-molasses expository opening, in which Eloise, though supposedly an erstwhile educator, can barely deal with a laptop keyboard before being swindled online, it becomes a parade of action sequences that grow increasingly preposterous in terms of Clay’s ability to avoid hails of gunfire while dispatching scores of ostensibly expert security people and marksmen. Except for a single one-on-one face-off with a flamboyantly dressed and aggressively nasty Beekeeper named Anisette (Megan Le), these are choreographed by Ayer, shot by Gabriel Beristain and edited by Geoffrey O’Brien with a depressing lack of thenstyle the “Wick” pictures reveled in; the production design by Ben Munro is drab too, and the background score by David Sardy and Jared Michael Fry blandly generic.
As Clay, Statham is his usual slab of inexpressive dullness, while except for Rashad everyone around him overacts fiercely in contrast. This doesn’t work for Hutcherson, who despite his shows of twittering nervousness makes a colorless villain, and it’s positively embarrassing in the case of Irons, who appears to have inherited Michael Caine’s penchant for accepting every opportunity to play an effete secondary scumbag offered to him. But James outdoes everyone else with a show of tough-as-nails bellicosity that would be overdrawn even in a comic book. The movie misses an obvious topper, though: it fails to conclude the inevitable final fight between him and Statham with Clay ripping off Lazarus’ prominently-displayed prosthetic leg (he lost his real one in a previous face-off with a Beekeeper) and beating him to death with it. In this instance Wimmer certainly overlooked a perfect opportunity to to take the lunacy to almost-inspired heights.
Action fanatics may give “The Beekeeper” a pass, but most viewers are likely to feel they’ve been stung by a stinker—or will be laughing too hard to care.