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The Beekeeper

Imagine that one of the boiler room scumbags from "The Wolf of Wall Street" bankrupted Jason Bourne’s mother. That's more or less the starting point of "The Beekeeper," which stars Jason Statham as a wraithlike ex-commando who metes out Old Testament vengeance against tech bros who use the latest inventions to rob people online.

Statham's character is named Adam Clay, an MMA upgrade of Clint Eastwood's The Man with No Name. We don't know anything about Adam except that he lives out in the country raising bees and selling their honey, and that he's played by Statham, which means he's no ordinary beekeeper. His best friend is an older woman named Eloise Parker (Phylicia Rashad), who lives in the farmhouse near his and rents him space in her barn. According to Adam, Eloise is the only person who ever took care of him. Eloise makes the terrible mistake of responding to a phishing scam from a data mining company that empties her bank account as well as the account of a nonprofit she helped found, leading to tragedy. Adam trades his beekeeper uniform for commando gear and disguises, and works his way up the criminal food chain, doing what the law won't.

We don't know exactly how Eloise came to take care of Adam, much less precisely what he means when he describes her that way. It's to the film's credit that it never elaborates, just as it never elaborates on who Adam was before he became a super-duper extra-secret commando who has never been fingerprinted and exists outside of every known governmental structure and seems (from other characters' descriptions) to be sort an agent of self-regulation for society. 

The film is the brainchild of director David Ayer ("Suicide Squad," "Fury") and veteran action film and thriller screenwriter Kurt Wimmer (who wrote or co-wrote remakes of "The Thomas Crown Affair," "Point Break" and "Total Recall"). It appreciates the virtues of its leading man, who appears to have come by his muscles honestly, and does everything from dialogue to martial arts to gunplay as simply as possible.

Statham is the kind of leading man who makes you lean forward in your seat, and he's gotten better with age. This performance builds on his superb work in Guy Ritchie's "Wrath of Man," which also presented him with the challenge of riveting an audience's attention while playing a character who was more of an idea than a person. Statham's matter-of-fact minimalism in "The Beekeeper" makes it all the more moving when Adam tersely speaks of how much Eloise meant to him, or waxes philosophical on the organization of the beehive and the necessity of ensuring a functioning society. There aren't too many action heroes who could deliver a line like "I believe there's good in the universe" and not only make you believe that the character believes it but that the film believes it.

A word about the bad guys: It's genuinely impressive how well-cast they are, especially considering their number. Standouts include David Witts as Garnett, the boiler room leader who personally bilks Eloise, narrating his conquest to a room full of junior vultures with the brio of a Tom Cruise-style '80s go-getter; Josh Hutcherson as the data mining company's vice president Derek Danforth, the spoiled, sleazy, coked-out son of the president of the United States (Jemma Redgrave); Jeremy Irons as Derek's boss, former CIA director Wallace Westwyld, an exasperated cynic who seems as if he wandered in from “Veep”; and Taylor James as a braying wanker of a mercenary who brags that he once killed a guy like Adam and can't wait to do it again. They're all morally and/or physically revolting. Derek looks like he's been marinating in oat milk, and Hutcherson reads his lines in that preppie teenage snot voice that a lot of trust fund boys never lose even when they enter their fifties. When James' character gets worked up while denigrating Adam, he spits misty plumes of saliva. Irons is dressed and lit to exaggerate the royal rotter look that made him so perfect in 1990s black comedies, psychosexual thrillers and horror flicks.

It's a real shame that "The Beekeeper" isn't the righteous trash masterpiece that it keeps threatening to turn into. There's a great pop hit in here somewhere—probably one that focused exclusively on Adam and the awful people he's going after. But the film is scattered and annoyingly glib at times. There's a well-acted but ultimately unnecessary secondary plot about Eloise's FBI agent daughter Verona Parker (Emmy Raver-Lampman) and her partner Matt Wiley (Bobby Naderi), who want to catch Adam and put him in jail even though Verona's initial theory about his complicity is instantly proved wrong. It seems as if she should recognize him as more of a Dr. Richard Kimble-type. The FBI duo has undeniable chemistry, but the buddy cop comedy riffing in their scenes undercuts Verona, who should be as furious about and focused on what happened to her mother as Adam is.

Worse, politically and philosophically the movie wimps out in the end, in the way that a lot of vigilante action flicks wimp out: by reassuring us that the problem isn't systemic corruption baked into the national character or the human species, but a few bad apples doing bad stuff without their well-meaning boss's knowledge or approval. Even the most socially critical Hollywood genre films tend to lose their nerve in this way. They tell us that the problem is not systemic and purposeful corruption embedded in the marrow of our institutions, but anomalous people whose removal will restore things to their natural state of nobility. There was an opportunity to do something truly bold here, but the movie didn’t take it. If there's any working actor who could literally as well as figuratively Burn It All Down and bring audiences to their feet cheering, it's Statham.

Still, at its best, which is when Statham dominates the screen, shooting and maiming bad guys and setting gigantic fires, "The Beekeeper" is a work in the spirit of "Billy Jack" and the original “Walking Tall." It's a fantasy about how satisfying it would be to brutalize and kill the sorts of white-collar crooks who prey on innocent people without fear of punishment. Watching "The Beekeeper" made me think about the elderly people in my life who have been victimized by scam artists, estate predators, and other swindlers, and the police and court officers who refused to lift even a pinky to help get justice for them. And how satisfying it would be for all of them to get into their cars, glance at their rearview mirrors, and see Jason Statham in the back seat.

Matt Zoller Seitz

Matt Zoller Seitz is the Editor at Large of RogerEbert.com, TV critic for New York Magazine and Vulture.com, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism.

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Film Credits

The Beekeeper movie poster

The Beekeeper (2024)

Rated R

105 minutes

Cast

Jason Statham as Mr. Clay

Jeremy Irons as Wallace Westwyld

Emmy Raver-Lampman as Agent Verona Parker

Bobby Naderi as Agent Matt Wiley

Josh Hutcherson as Derek Danforth

Minnie Driver as Director Janet Hayworth

Enzo Cilenti as Rico Anzalone

Dan Li as Agent Kim

Taylor James as Lazarus

Adam Basil as Saffa

Reza Diako as Barry

Phylicia Rashād as Mrs. Parker

Jemma Redgrave as President Danforth

Director

Writer

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