The Beekeeper Review: Too Stupid To Be Great, Too Grim To Be Properly Entertaining

 Jason Statham in The Beekeeper.
Jason Statham in The Beekeeper.

There is room in the cinematic landscape for movies that are stupid-but-fun. So long as there are good intentions and serious efforts behind the scenes, there is nothing necessarily wrong with ridiculous premises, preposterous plotting and silly dialogue (particularly if there is a notable level of self-awareness involved). These kinds of big screen adventures are part of every genre, and while they often get slapped with the derogatory label of being “guilty pleasures,” there shouldn’t be any guilt in appreciating the number one goal of any film: it’s entertainment.

The Beekeeper

Jason Statham in The Beekeeper
Jason Statham in The Beekeeper

Release Date: January 12, 2023
Directed By: David Ayer
Written By: Kurt Wimmer
Starring: Jason Statham, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Bobby Naderi, Josh Hutcherson, Jeremy Irons, Phylicia Rashad, Jemma Redgrave, and Minnie Driver
Rating: R for strong violence throughout, pervasive language, some sexual references and drug use
Runtime: 105 minutes

David Ayer’s The Beekeeper has all of the ingredients to be a work of this familiar ilk. Even putting aside that Jason Statham is an experienced veteran when it comes to this kind of action movie material, this is a feature that proposes the idea of an apiarist-themed government assassin going on a revenge mission against a scammer conglomerate with call centers that look like neon-lit game show sets. With the R-rating it sports, the door is wide open for foul language, gratuitous blood-letting, drug use and more. It all suggests a brutal ride for audiences to absorb with goofy grins.

The good news is that The Beekeeper is exactly as stupid as it should be, but the bad news is that the fun is undercut by a heavy current of grimness that leaves a taste that’s hard to wash out of your mouth.

In this world created by screenwriter Kurt Wimmer, the United States secretly designates a single highly trained assassin as The Beekeeper, whose job it is to “protect the hive” at any cost (and if you forget this directive, don’t worry, as the film reminds you of it at least a dozen times). The movie introduces Jason Statham’s Adam Clay after he has retired from the position, but he’s still regarded as a beekeeper because he… keeps bees. He rents space for a honey farm on the property of a woman (Phylicia Rashad) whom he identifies as the only person to ever take care of him, and he is enraged when she commits suicide after being tricked and left penniless by a phishing scam.

Deciding to un-retire, Clay goes on a classic roaring rampage that starts with targeting the specific criminals who conned his friend, but he swiftly follows that action by targeting the people who are really in charge. At the head of everything is a wretched nepotism-fed tech executive (Josh Hutcherson) and a former director of the CIA (Jeremy Irons), and they make every effort in their playbook to stop the protagonist, but Clay is determined in his mission and happens to unravel a massive government conspiracy along the way.

The Beekeeper is very dumb, but that mostly works for it.

The Beekeeper affords it a lot of goodwill when it comes to being observed with a critical eye, but let it also be put on the record that the film is egregiously sloppy. This is a movie where the deputy director of the FBI (Don Gilet) flies from Washington DC to Boston for what ends up amounting to a two-minute meeting with the field agents (Emmy Raver-Lampman, Bobby Naderi) on the hunt for Adam Clay, and then, just a short while later, they have a meeting with him via teleconference. Events unfold at a ludicrous pace, and incredibly little makes sense about the Beekeeper program in general.

There are moments in The Beekeeper that unintentionally inspire laughs (clanking dialogue and bizarre edits, mostly), but there are also a number that do it purposefully, and that’s when the film is operating at its best. While the plotting bends over backwards to keep details of the story bee-themed, it also executes healthy doses of “over the top” – like Clay strapping a guy to his pickup and launching it over a bridge, or the activation of the active Beekeeper assassin (Megan Le), who rolls around in a truck with a M134 Minigun and wears a fluorescent pink duster. One flaw of the film is that it actually doesn’t have enough of the current Beekeeper (the same goes for Taylor James as a mercenary named Lazarus, who unfortunately doesn’t show up until the third act) – but there is a larger issue with stakes and attitude, and you don’t have to look beyond the impetus of the plot to see it.

Clashing with the dumbness is an edginess in The Beekeeper that feels unnecessary.

At the start of the film, Phylicia Rashad’s Eloise not only sees scammers drain her personal bank account, but they also steal $2 million from a children’s charity she manages. For moviegoers who are hungry for blood-spattered cinematic vengeance, this is a despicable act plenty worthy of Adam Clay coming out of retirement… but the movie can’t just leave it there. Not only does Eloise commit suicide, but David Ayer makes the choice to show us her still body on a chair with bullet hole in her temple.

It’s darkness that splashes some cold water on the film that The Beekeeper is otherwise trying to be, and it’s not the sole example featured in the runtime. They’re sharp edges that the story doesn’t need, and the seriousness they bring to the proceedings is unwelcome.

The lower expectations you have for The Beekeeper, the better.

As an action movie released to theaters in the month of January, The Beekeeper naturally invites low expectations, and it makes good use of them. There is fleeting fun to be had in its runtime, but the experience overall is muddled by bad choices and instincts that hold it back and never fully let it be the “good bad” film that it should be.