THE STORY – One man’s brutal campaign for vengeance takes on national stakes after it’s revealed he’s a former operative of a powerful and clandestine organization known as Beekeepers.
THE CAST – Jason Statham, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Josh Hutcherson, Bobby Naderi, Minnie Driver, Phylicia Rashad & Jeremy Irons
THE TEAM – David Ayer (Director) & Kurt Wimmer (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 105 Minutes
One-man-army action flicks have followed the same basic story structure for decades now. Since Sylvester Stallone’s first outing as John Rambo in 1982, the genre has felt pretty set in stone: One Good Man gets wronged (usually inadvertently) by a bunch of Bad Guys and embarks on a Quest For Justice/Revenge that will only end when he kills all the men even tangentially responsible, or they kill him. He sometimes thinks it will be easier than it ends up being, leading to an early setback. Still, soon enough, the Bad Guys realize that they Messed With The Wrong Guy, because this Seemingly Ordinary Man is a former Soldier/Spy/Hitman/Mafioso with a special set of skills who will stop at nothing to get to them. This most masculine of film genres is also perhaps the last bastion of true star vehicles: films built entirely around a star’s persona with the express purpose of giving audiences exactly what they expect from said star. All films in this genre have the same outline, and each star colors it with their unique set of crayons. You always know what to expect from these films, whether they star Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Rock, or, in this case, Jason Statham. The relative quality comes down to the action sequences and how memorable they are. “The Beekeeper,” Statham’s latest, has David Ayer in the director’s chair, a man known for action spectacles on budgets small (“End of Watch”), big (“Fury”), and mega-sized (“Suicide Squad“). While this means that “The Beekeeper” has a stronger base of craft and a starrier cast than you might otherwise expect from this genre, the film feels almost perfunctory. It hits all the expected beats and hits them well, but very little about it stands out.
Statham stars as Arthur Clay, who keeps bees and lives out of an old barn owned by Eloise Parker (Phylicia Rashad). Eloise is a loving, kind woman who’s grateful to Clay for bringing the land back to life with help from his bees, but when she loses all her money as a result of a phishing scam, she takes her own life. Working against Parker’s FBI Agent daughter Verona (Emmy Raver-Lampman), Clay vows to find the men behind the phishing scheme and make them pay. You see, Clay is not just a beekeeper but a retired Beekeeper: a former member of a secret, outside-the-government organization that works to “protect the hive” of the United States populace — and these men have threatened the natural order by preying on the old and weak. Clay finds the call center that scammed Eloise relatively quickly, but can he unravel the conspiracy that traces back to the odious Gen Z scuzzball Derek Danforth (Josh Hutcherson), the brains of the outfit, and his handler, former CIA Director Wallace Westwyld (Jeremy Irons)?
Hutcherson and Irons clearly both relish being the bad guys, tossing insults back and forth like they’re playing catch. However, Kurt Wimmer’s screenplay doesn’t give them nearly enough of the kind of over-the-top material that makes for genuinely memorable movie villains. Make no mistake: their behavior is undoubtedly bad, but it’s not especially juicy, and both actors feel like they’re underplaying it. Perhaps they saw the script and confused timeliness for importance: Danforth’s phishing scheme has ties back to the United States government, which may or may not involve rigging a Presidential election. Or, perhaps they realized that going over the top would throw the film off balance, turning truly hateful villains into villains you love to hate that you end up rooting for them. David Witts, as the call center head who dupes Eloise, does go big, and his ultimate comeuppance is one of the film’s most entertaining moments because of it. Sadly, the film only goes big once, in a scene where Clay has a gas station run-in with the current Beekeeper, a brash, punk-styled hellion who drives around with a giant machine gun locked and loaded in the back of her pickup truck. While the rest of the film’s action sequences have occasionally clever choreography, the battle between the Beekeepers has more pure energy than all the rest put together. Had the film tapped into that energy more often, it could have been a real barn-burner.
Ultimately, though, this is Statham’s movie, and while there are scenes where it looks as though he’s just going through the motions, he radiates such badass charisma that he remains watchable. His early scenes with Rashad are so full of warm feelings from both actors that you immediately become invested in his quest. The action sequences may not have the sort of stylistic grace notes that typify the “John Wick” series, but that’s not what Statham’s audience wants. They want to see a gruff, buff British dude beat the ever-loving hell out of some nameless thugs. If there happens to be some imaginative lighting, framing, or choreography, that’s great, but the pure brute force of Statham’s body is what sells tickets, not the filmmaking. Neither Statham nor “The Beekeeper” are firing on all cylinders, but for those who like him or just have an itch that only watching a Good Guy With A Gun plow through dozens of Bad Guys With Guns can scratch, it gets the job done with a minimum of muss and fuss.