“The Beekeeper” is the best kind of bad movie — which is to say, it’s the sort that puts entertainment ahead of pretentiousness, embracing the laughter sure to accompany such an unapologetically stupid, ultra-violent premise. Starring Jason Statham in what feels like a parody of Jason Statham movies, this conspiracy-fueled action showcase tortures its central metaphor until it can only be seen as a joke, featuring the “Transporter” star as ruthless, retired government assassin-turned-benevolent beekeeper Adam Clay, who’s pushed back into berserker mode after a phishing attack targets the kindly old woman from whom he rents a barn.
If you don’t get a hearty belly laugh out of watching Statham scowl his way through the opening montage, in which Clay is shown collecting honey and tending his hives on a bucolic country estate while landlady Eloise (Phylicia Rashad) falls for a blatantly fishy online scam, then “The Beekeeper” is probably not for you. Saddled with a ludicrous (but never less than hilarious) script, director David Ayer puts fun ahead of plausibility, treating the Clay character as the ultimate enforcer anytime America’s (imperfect) system of checks and balances needs adjustment.
From the stylish opening credits sequence, in which close-up footage of healthy honeybees is intercut with unsettling views of ominous six-sided buildings (with one random octagon thrown in for no good reason), the movie plants the “Da Vinci Code”-like notion that a shadow organization known as “the Beekeepers” has been tasked with protecting society from corruption. That’s an awful lot to ask people to infer from a montage, though Ayer mostly just wants to rev up our imaginations, judging by the quick, nearly subliminal shot of an American flag superimposed on an active beehive.
Are the Beekeepers supposed to be an Illuminati-ancient line of enforcers or a more recent addition to the country’s national security apparatus? And why are nearly all the major roles in this America-centric thriller — including that of U.S. president — played by English actors? These are the wrong kinds of questions to be asking (“To be or not to be?” taunts one character by way of alternative). “The Beekeeper” expects audiences to accept the claim that the top-secret team Clay once worked for is “above the pay grade” of former CIA honcho Wallace Westwyld (Jeremy Irons), a vaguely George H.W. Bush-like figure (if only Bush had been British) sworn to protect twerpy tech pirate Derek Danforth (Josh Hutcherson, enjoying his role as the country’s most entitled rich kid).
The movie doesn’t introduce these upper-level antagonists until after Clay has torched the call center responsible for driving poor Eloise to suicide. Eloise’s daughter Verona (Emmy Raver-Lampman) works for the FBI, but traditional law enforcement is inexplicably useless in a case like this. The culprit (David Witts) is a douchebag who operates out of a neon-lit boiler room hidden in a nondescript office building. Relying on his old Beekeeper network for a lead, Clay rolls up, calmly informs the security guards that he intends to burn the place to the ground, and proceeds to do exactly that. His directness, coupled with a vain attempt to save/redeem the drones working the phone lines, comes across as chivalrous in the face of such dishonorable behavior.
There’s much talk of “kicking the hornet’s nest” and “protecting the hive” (never mind that bees and hornets are separate species entirely) as Clay traces the culprits responsible for draining Eloise’s accounts as far up the chain as necessary — which, in Ayer and screenwriter Kurt Wimmer’s overactive imaginations, reaches all the way to the White House. Depending on your appetite for cockamamie conspiracy theories, that conceit is either the dumbest or most brilliant thing about “The Beekeeper.” Engineered in such a way that partisan American audiences can indulge their distrust of recent U.S. leaders, the movie features characters who could be variously interpreted as proxies for Bush, Hillary Clinton, Hunter Biden and the Trump clan.
Meanwhile, Statham sticks to his brand, playing yet another variation on the baldheaded battering ram we’ve come to associate with the star. It’s more than a little absurd that a coldblooded killer would turn in his kill-whomever-you-please Beekeeper status to … keep bees (how many ex-Navy SEALs have dedicated themselves to raising seals?), and yet, such half-brained plotting is meant to suggest that Ayer and company don’t find it necessary to waste their energy on backstory or psychology.
“The Beekeeper” arrives in a post-“John Wick” world, where a dead pet can trigger a killing spree. That style-first franchise feels like a direct reference to the movie’s most over-the-top action scene, in which Clay’s even-crazier successor (played by Megan Le in high heels and a shimmery pink trench coat) opens fire on a gas station.
Ayer does a more-than-decent job directing the action scenes, which is what matters most with such a witless genre entry. Squads of goons carrying enormous guns line up for Statham to take on one at a time. Once he’s decided to “protect the hive” — but oddly, not its queen/president — Clay has no qualms about killing whoever steps in his way, whether it’s the pros who answer to CIA honcho Janet Harward (British actor Minnie Driver) or a grizzled mercenary like Lazarus (Taylor James), who’s offed a Beekeeper before and relishes the thought of swatting another.
We’re meant to be rooting for Statham’s bug-brained vigilante, and yet, by the film’s climax — in which he bursts in on the American president with gun drawn — it’s hard not to be reminded of the scene three years and six days earlier, when self-appointed heroes from groups called the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers violently took matters into their own hands. Maybe trusting the fate of our democracy to a renegade beekeeper isn’t the ideal solution this movie would have us believe.