Directed by David Ayer | Written by Kurt Wimmer | 105 min | ▲▲△△△ | In Cinemas
My father loved Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood movies. A big part of my cinematic upbringing were those 1970s American action pictures frequently baked-in with conservative politics. They suggested a tough man with a gun can solve any problem if he’s got justice on his side.
These days our antiheroes generally have a little more nuance, but there’s plenty of room for the middle-aged white vigilante, someone with a highly trained past that gave him a special set of skills. If he has a personal stake in coming out of retirement, look out! He’s someone whose legend is so huge the bad guys cower in fear — even if they outnumber our protagonist 50 to 1.
We’ve seen it in Taken and any number of other Liam Neeson pictures, Nobody, and especially John Wick, of which this film is a glib, substandard rip-off. This lame little b-movie isn’t worthy of the jokes its status immediately conjures — there’s no buzz about it.
One of the problems with The Beekeeper is, unlike Wick, it takes itself a little too seriously, a product of an America rife with school shootings, an obscenely powerful gun lobby, and a deeply troubled criminal justice system. The kind of action Keanu Reeves traffics in feels removed from reality due to its noirish, hyperstylized world with an honourable, crushed velvet criminal subculture, as indebted to Asian fantasy influences as it is to American crime thrillers. The violent wish fulfillment of The Beekeeper, however, is kind of sick-making in 2024.
The one thing it does nail, aside from Jason Statham bringing a reliably capable physical performance, is seeing ol’ bullet head burn down an office full of scammers who use computer algorithms to steal from senior citizens. How many times have you wanted to reach through the phone and strangle a bad actor looking for your credit card information? The Beekeeper is dumb when it’s not silly, but that’s the one element that really worked for me.
Statham is Adam Clay, a pseudonym. He used to be someone working for a super-secret government agency, but now he’s just a simple beekeeper, working on a farm for a kindly lady named Eloise Parker (Phylicia Rashad) who he says, “took care of him.” Those scammers take advantage of her and taken all the money out of her charity and she shoots herself in shame. Clay is on the hunt for those responsible, even as Eloise’s daughter, FBI Agent Verona Parker (Emmy Raver-Lampman of The Umbrella Academy) is trying to track him down.
Here’s where it gets really stupid. The super-secret government agents Clay retired from, they’re called Beekeepers, and they operate in a hive-like fashion — and Clay’s whole worldview is inspired by the way bees serve the queen bee, hence his booming an actual beekeeper in retirement. The movie says, apparently, that certain bees can also ascend in the hive and kill the queen if she doesn’t do her job. Or something. This whole concept is so goofy, but everyone onscreen just swallows it like it’s the sweetest honey.
There’s a moment when Clay has to deal with his replacement, and she wears an impressive post-apocalyptic pink leather coat (but no yellow and black stripes, surprisingly). For a moment the movie looks like it’s going to get a whole lot more fun — but then reverts to form.
The dialogue here is truly inane, but director Ayer — who once had a decent career making movies about macho men in teams like Fury before he made the disaster that was the first Suicide Squad picture — hasn’t lost his touch staging scenes of cops and SWAT gathering in the street and moving through buildings. That’s nearly 50% of what happens in this movie.
Funny how Clay eschews firearms because he’s so deadly with his hands and feet. When he finally catches up with the family who run this criminal operation — played by Josh Hutcherson, Jemma Redgrave, and Jeremy Irons, who at least has the class to look embarrassed he’s in this — that’s when Clay picks up a handgun to finish the job. At one point he literally says, “You have laws for these things until they fail… then you have me,” and later when he faces FBI Agent Parker he comes up with, “You decide who you work for… the law or justice.” Where’s the puke emoji?
A small pleasure: Hulking British actor Taylor James plays a heavily-armed thug, rocking maybe the thickest South African accent ever put on film, where only every fourth or fifth word is discernible. It’s a flex.
I would also love to know what happened to Minnie Driver’s career. Twenty-five years ago she was terrific in Good Will Hunting, Grosse Pointe Blank, and The Governess. How is it that Hollywood thinks a two-scene role in this crap is worthy of her? It really isn’t. It’s time for a Driverssance.