There’s one and only one reason for watching the latest Jason Statham actioner, The Beekeeper, and it doesn’t involve chewing gum or chewing Flintstones vitamins. It also doesn’t involve and/or include Kurt Wimmer’s (Point Break, Total Recall, Equilibrium) semi-ambitious, punch-pulling screenplay or David Ayer’s (Suicide Squad, Sabotage, End of Watch) passably competent direction of the non-action scenes. It comes down to action-star Statham, a reserved, stoic performer known less for his ability to deliver his lines convincingly and more — much more — for his singular ability to kick, punch, and stomp all manner and kinds of rear, usually, but not limited to, interchangeable thugs and/or masked henchmen without breaking a sweat or losing his tight-fitting sports cap or purely functional chapeau.
When we first meet Statham’s generically named character, Adam Clay, he’s removing an existential threat with extreme prejudice. That threat, though, isn’t human. It’s a hornet’s nest situated far too close to the bee hives Clay keeps. His kind, caring, somewhat naive landlord, Eloise Parker (Phylicia Rashad), asks about their fate, but Clay, recognizing Eloise’s empathetic nature, demurs. That, in turn, leads to Clay disposing of the hornet’s nest in the next scene, leaving no doubt as to Clay’s willingness to act when needed, saving his bee hives from said threat, and respecting Eloise’s feelings in the process.
Of course, Clay is no simple or ordinary beekeeper. While he may be, in fact, an expert beekeeper monastically dedicated to maintaining the safety and security of his bee hives, he’s also a “retired” ex-government operative. As one character, Wallace Westwyld (Jeremy Irons), an ex-CIA Director turned corporate CEO, tells another soon-to-be dispatched character, Clay isn’t just a “tier-1” SEAL Team level operative. As he proves repeatedly via bone-crunching, sinew-shredding, head-imploding encounters with whatever — and whomever — he encounters, he’s practically a Terminator (minus the cybernetic enhancements), a combination of lethal, brute force, highly honed skills (of the killing kind), and practically near-genius strategy- and tactic-wise.
Spurred into a righteous rampage of revenge by a phishing scam that cleans out Eloise’s bank accounts and retirement savings, Clay starts his mission of vengeance and retribution with the innocuously named United Data Corp., a center, one of among many, boiler room-type, conscience-free felons whose only goal involves separating the elderly and other easily scammed people from their hard-earned savings. Anyone in or around the center doesn’t stand a chance against Clay, but that doesn’t stop them from trying and subsequently dying.
The Beekeeper cross-cuts between Clay’s videogame-style progress, steadily moving up the chain of command to the Big Boss, and Eloise’s daughter, Verona Parker (Emmy Raver-Lampman), an FBI agent, and her partner, Agent Matt Wiley (Bobby Naderi). Not surprisingly, Verona and Matt are always a step behind Clay. Even when they unearth his identity as a titular Beekeeper, an off-book team of extra-judicial government ops who, by every in-film description and action, bring “balance” back to an undefined system (presumably democracy, capitalism, or democratic capitalism). Also, he has a hive to protect and we’re that hive.
Wimmer’s screenplay peppers the dialogue with extensive bee metaphors, up to and including a line about a so-called “queen slayer” that hints at a potentially risky, divisive development once the second act begins to take shape. That The Beekeeper doesn’t go there, instead choosing the path of least resistance isn’t surprising. It should be expected from a mid-budget film aimed squarely at action-oriented audiences across the political spectrum.
While it’s still disappointing that The Beekeeper’s jaundiced view of American politics doesn’t bear poisoned fruit, story, themes, and ideas remain secondary to Statham doing what he does best: Mowing down hordes of disposable henchmen — with special care given to government agents (beaten to varying levels of indistinguishable pulp, but not permanently dispatched to the next world) — while rarely breaking a sweat, bleeding, or otherwise being inconvenienced by the bodies or bullets flying in his general direction. Only once does Statham’s character meet a near-equal who can possibly beat him. Unfortunately, it’s long on breaking glass and furniture and short on running time.
For all its shortcomings, The Beekeeper delivers one well-choreographed set piece after another. Ayer receives credit as director, but it’s action director/stunt choreographer Jeremy Marinas and his team over at 87Eleven — the same team behind the John Wick films (among others) — who excel every time they’re needed to elevate The Beekeeper from a mid-budget actioner and star vehicle to something altogether better, finer, and far more memorable than any description could adequately capture.
The Beekeeper opens Friday, January 12th, via Amazon MGM Studios.