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‘The Beekeeper’ a wacky, self-aware action outing with Jason Statham

Katie Walsh
Tribune News Service

For a certain type of action movie fan, it’s the most wonderful time of the year: January pulp trashterpiece season. Last year, that slot was occupied by the lean, mean flying machine “Plane,” starring Gerard Butler; this year, it’s the off-brand “John Wick” ripoff “The Beekeeper,” starring Jason Statham and directed by David Ayer.

This profoundly silly and self-aware bit of blood-spurting nonsense is a bracing antidote to the awards season fare that crowds theaters in December, and Ayer’s overstuffed approach to filmmaking elevates Kurt Wimmer’s entertaining, but rather thin script.

The PSA-like premise centers around a highly organized phishing scam targeting lonely elderly folks. A warning message pops up on their computers, they call the number, and a sleazy dude in a call center walks them through handing over all of their passwords to their bank accounts. But the scammy schemers go up in flames when they target Eloise (Phylicia Rashad), who happens to have an FBI agent daughter, Verona (Emmy Raver-Lampman), and a gruffly quiet tenant, Adam Clay (Jason Statham), who just wants to tend to his beehives.

The usually slick Statham embraces Carhartt-core as Adam, who is a literal beekeeper, delivering jars of honey to his warm landlady, but also a retired “Beekeeper,” a highly classified assassin that exists outside the chain of government command, whose mission is to “protect the hive.” When the phone scammers target Adam’s queen, he moves into action to smoke the predatory hornets out.

And what insidious hornets they are. Ayer’s filmmaking is a gleefully blunt instrument: while Adam’s home is shot like a Ford commercial with natural sunlight pouring through the beams of his barn, the call centers are lit like hellish raves with pink and blue neon lighting casting a pall on the obnoxious emcees who rile up their minions like devilish game show hosts. One of them wears a suit with the word “GOAT” printed all over it. Every one of the scammers wears a thick gold chain and satin shirt like a “Saturday Night Fever” extra, so it’s easy to distinguish the bad guys.

The film is rife with these unsubtle and unexplained bits of flare, which makes it much more fun to watch. An assassin who attacks Adam at a gas station is outfitted in a cyberpunk ensemble; another is a feral Aussie with huge mutton chops. Do we need to know why? No. It’s just more fun to see Statham fight one of these cartoonish thugs than some bland henchman.

In his revenge quest, Adam follows the money, and Verona follows Adam. As he makes his way to the top of the data-mining food chain, he discovers the slimy Derek Danforth (Josh Hutcherson) at the top. Derek is a parody of the monstrous crypto bro, and he has a very, very powerful mother (Jemma Redgrave) enabling his massive ego and shady shell companies. Adam sees things in right or wrong, black or white, and believes that justice and the law are not the same thing. This lack of moral ambiguity extends to the filmmaking: the bad guys are very bad and the good guys are Jason Statham.

“The Beekeeper” might share DNA strands of plot with “John Wick,” but it does not have the poetry and soulfulness of those films; where “John Wick” is brooding, this is brutish. Statham does not express the sorrow that Keanu Reeves does, and here he doesn’t have to do much other than growl, wear a baseball cap and kill people very creatively. Adam does not carry a firearm, guns would be too pedestrian for this Beekeeper, who dispatches his enemies with fists, feet and the ingenious use of ropes, cords and gasoline pumps. He’s also quite fond of explosives.

Ayer brings a colorful tactility to “The Beekeeper” and surrounds Statham’s stoic avenging angel with a big, interesting cast — any movie that has Minnie Driver playing a honey-accented CIA director for all of two minutes at least deserves an appreciative chuckle. But the character himself is a cipher and the lore isn’t exactly deep, so without Ayer putting everything into the locations, sets, cinematography, casting and stunts, it seems that sequels would provide diminishing returns. But this wacky and self-aware bit of action fun is wildly entertaining and zips by with the good-natured buzz of a bumblebee. If this is your kind of dumb action movie honey, it’s delectable.



2.5 stars (out of 4)

MPA rating: R (for strong violence throughout, pervasive language, some sexual references and drug use)

Running time: 1:45

How to watch: In theaters Friday


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