The Beekeeper (R) ★½

Review Date: January 10th, 2024

When I think of a "Jason Statham movie," I think of The Transporter. Or Crank. Or The Mechanic - all relatively mindless (but enjoyable) thrillers that understood the appeal of their deadpan leading man: his ability to give and take physical punishment while maintaining a blisteringly sarcastic sense of humor. Alas, the days of that sort of "Jason Statham movie" are long past. Of late, Statham's films have attempted to re-invent him as a modern Steven Seagal: a personality-deprived killing machine with an amoral aspect who, like a Timex watch, takes a licking but keeps on ticking. In The Beekeeper, as has been the case with pretty much anything Statham has done in the past half-decade, the actor is on hand to collect a paycheck in exchange for bringing a recognizable name to the proceedings.

It's hard for me to decide whether The Beekeeper is just a really bad throwback movie to the kind of direct-to-video 1990s garbage that populated Blockbuster shelves or a collection of potentially intriguing ideas that, given a six-episode run, might have made for a watchable streaming series. One of the film's oddities is that there is potential in the underlying story. The screenplay, however (credited to Kurt Wimmer), is godawful. The dialogue is weeks past being ripe and all logic has been tossed out the window. The central metaphor, that Statham's Adam Clay is the human equivalent of a "queen bee killer," is aggravatingly overused. There are a few reasonably choreographed fight scenes and two nice explosions but that sort of eye candy is hardly a reason to get off the couch and visit a theater.

The story postulates that Clay, a loner beekeeper, is actually a retired Beekeeper (capital "B") - an elite agent of a clandestine organization that exists outside the government and is tasked with restoring "balance" when such a thing is needed. It's the usual spy thriller cliché material that has fueled countless other movies but is usually applied with a little more intelligence and a lot less exposition. The movie decides that we need a five minute monologue (delivered by Jeremy Irons) explaining in excruciating detail the parallels between Clay the Beekeeper and Clay the beekeeper. Speaking of Irons, he's one of several old-school familiar faces who makes an appearance (and takes a paycheck). The others are Phylicia Rashad, Minnie Driver, and Jemma Redgrave.

While Clay is out making honey (that's not a metaphor), his friend and neighbor, Eloise (Rashad), discovers that her computer has been infected by a virus. She calls the tech support phone number that appears on the screen and is connected to the rapacious Mickey Garnett (David Witts), whose goal is to obtain her passwords and drain her bank accounts. Once the reality of what has been done to her sinks in, Eloise blows her brains out. Clay finds the body right around the time that Eloise's daughter, FBI agent Verona Parker (Emmy Raver-Lampman), arrives home to pay her mom a visit. After being cleared of murder, Clay decides that the hive is in need of balancing and sets his sights first on Mickey then on the man behind Mickey's nefarious dealings, playboy Derek Danforth (Josh Hutcherson). Derek is protected by some powerful people: ex-CIA director Wallace Westwyld (Irons), current CIA director Janet Harward (Driver), and Dear Old Mom (Redgrave).

The Beekeeper doesn't try very hard to exist in any sort of reasonable facsimile of the real world, which is fine. The problem is that the movie doesn't have the time or patience to develop relationships that need better fleshing out and the main character is so bland and uninteresting that, in the end, the only reason we're rooting for him is because he's being played Jason Statham (whose personality was lost somewhere along the way). Worthwhile - or at least potentially interesting - ideas are occasionally broached, only to be quickly buried when the filmmakers realize there's no way they can do anything with them given the constraints of a 105-minute running time.

Two decades ago, when director David Ayer was starting his career as a screenwriter, he penned a couple of iconic films: Training Day (which gave Denzel Washington an Oscar) and The Fast and the Furious (the movie that launched a franchise that is still limping along). Ayer's tenure behind the camera hasn't been as successful and, especially of late, he has been making bad movies and worse career choices. As with a "Jason Statham movie," one goes to a "David Ayer movie" hoping for some sort of turning back of the clock. An Ayer/Statham collaboration in 2005 might have been exciting. An Ayer/Statham collaboration in 2024 is something to be avoided if any sort of investment of time or money is involved.

© 2024 James Berardinelli