The Beekeeper

The Beekeeper

Jason Statham starred in 4 action projects just last year alone (most recently in last September’s bomb Expend4bles) and he doesn’t show any signs of stopping this year either. Everyone’s favorite gravelly-voiced Brit kicks off 2024 with The Beekeeper, another preposterous actioner that at least seems to have a decent sense of how ridiculous it is. Not only is it a one-man army movie, where one guy can take on a dozen, highly-trained individuals with nary a scratch on him, but it’s also a shameless rip-off of John Wick too. Where the inciting event in that film was a group of thugs killing the titular assassin’s puppy, the kick to the proverbial hornet’s nest this time around is the death of a kindly elderly woman. In either case, men with a “particular set of skills” (to borrow a phrase from Taken, another blueprint for these types of movies) are drawn out of retirement to settle the score.

After an opening credit sequence that promises it’s taking the bee theme very seriously, we’re introduced to tight-lipped apiarist Adam Clay (Statham) as he assists his neighbor Eloise (Phylicia Rashad) with a troubling nest in her barn. While he’s handling that, poor Eloise gets suckered into a phishing scam that costs her millions in just a matter of minutes and the ensuing guilt prompts her to take her own life. Her daughter, FBI agent Verona (Emmy Raver-Lampman), is both devastated by the news and desperate to take down the scumbags responsible. Clay also seeks justice for Eloise but isn’t interested in doing things in the most strictly legal sense, his path of vengeance beginning with blowing up a scammer call center and eventually brings him to the head of the operation Derek Danforth (Josh Hutcherson).

Because, you see, Adam Clay isn’t just a beekeeper. He’s a Beekeeper, a member of a top-secret government program buzzing with deadly assassins who are to “protect the hive” at all costs. If you think The Beekeeper keeps its bee-related parallels there, then you may be shocked how many references to bee behavior the movie goofily strains to include in its narrative. Jeremy Irons pops up later on as a former CIA executive and even pulls up a PowerPoint presentation about bees to a group of ex-Navy SEALS while prepping them on how to take Clay down. Verona has to school a high-level FBI boss about the process of “queen slaying” that honeybees will carry out on defective hive leaders, as it should metaphorically track with Clay’s next target. Director David Ayer pours the apiary allusions on as thick as honey.

But it’s not like the world of The Beekeeper is much more grounded in anything resembling reality either. Scam call centers absolutely do exist in real life and, of course, they’re a scourge on society but as detestable as they are, I doubt they’re carried out with the Wolf Of Wall Street theatrics on display here. Here, the fraud victims are presented on huge display screens with Vegas style “cha-ching!” sound effects and monetary values presented like scores on a football jumbotron. When the Beekeeper program is peeled back, the John Wick borrowing becomes even more apparent, as that film’s High Table and Continental lore isn’t quite replicated but the Accountants are directly ripped off. The switchboard operators behind the Beekeeper operation are dressed exactly like the contract workers from the Administration in Wick and put out bounty information to their team in an extremely similar manner.

As much as the window-dressing and plot mechanics call back to the current top dog of the action scene, the action of The Beekeeper isn’t always up to the high standard set by the John Wick franchise. Ayer and his editor Geoffrey O’Brien too often favor quick cuts that likely sub out Statham in favor of stuntmen and don’t give us a sense of how the combat is actually playing out. A third act fight set in a hall of mirrors with a hard-to-kill South African brawler literally named Lazarus is easily the best fight scene in the whole movie because it actually shows struggle and holds on a shot for more than a few seconds. Compare this to a shoddily-shot scene earlier when Clay takes out a SWAT crew in broad daylight and the quality difference is night and day. The Beekeeper may not be state-of-the-art action cinema but it has enough over-the-top machismo and silly mythology to carve out its own nest in the swarm of post-Wick imitators.

Score – 3/5

More movies coming this weekend:
Playing only in theaters is Mean Girls, a musical comedy starring Angourie Rice and ReneƩ Rapp adapted from the classic 2004 teen comedy about a new girl who inadvertently breaks into an exclusive clique and makes a play for an off-limits crush at her high school.
Also playing exclusively in theaters is The Book Of Clarence, a biblical satire starring LaKeith Stanfield and Omar Sy about a down-on-his-luck man living in Jerusalem A.D. 33 who looks to turn things around by claiming to be a new Messiah sent by God.
Streaming on Amazon Prime is Role Play, an action comedy starring Kaley Cuoco and David Oyelowo about a couple who looks to spice up their wedding anniversary with a night of role-play that unintentionally reveals one of the pair’s secret life as an international assassin.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup