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Buzzy Beekeeper makes bloody honey out of narrative hooey

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Photo courtesy of MGM
Photo courtesy of MGM


The Beekeeper reminded me of almost every Steven Seagal action flick released between 1988 and 1997. Starting with Above the Law and concluding with Fire Down Below (with box office-friendly pitstops like Hard to Kill, Marked for Death, Out for Justice, and, of course, Under Siege along the way), the basic outline rarely changed. Some sort of law enforcement officer or military operative — either active or retired, it never truly mattered — found himself thrust back into action after a horrible incident involving a friend, relative, loved one, innocent bystander, or combination of all of the above. Seagal's character would proceed to forcefully dole out his concept of justice, and there was never a single second when a viewer felt there was any danger he wouldn't be successful in his mission.

With their new endeavor starring action specialist Jason Statham, director David Ayer (End of Watch) and writer Kurt Wimmer (Equilibrium) follow this template down to the last broken femur. Statham is an unstoppable force of nature going by the name Adam Clay. But in international espionage circles, he's also known only as a "beekeeper," an elite operative who will do anything he feels is required to "protect the hive." Anyone who tries to stop him from reaching his target? They better stand down, because if they want to continue to walk normally or retain the use of both of their hands, then getting in his way is not the best idea.

There's a broader plot, of course, but it's a large, gelatinous jar of bunk. Basically, Clay is compelled to set things right after Eloise Parker (Phylicia Rashad), the kindly retiree he's been renting a section of her barn from, has her entire life savings wiped out by cybercriminals. With Eloise's FBI agent daughter Verona (Emmy Raver-Lampman) dogging his every step, this retired man of action who hoped to vanish into a much simpler life systematically dismantles a massive illegal empire run by the entitled son (Josh Hutcherson) of a powerful politician (Jemma Redgrave), who is also protected by the former head of the CIA (Jeremy Irons).

Photo courtesy of MGM  

It's clear that Ayer and Wimmer know how insanely silly this is, and instead of trying to play it straight and conceal the plot's inherent lunacy, they instead lean into the comedy something fierce. Not the actors, mind you (although Irons is clearly having a blast slumming as the one man who knows how pointless it is to stand in Clay's way, and Hutcherson hams it up marvelously crafting a narcissistic Gen Z villain for the ages), but more in the way the filmmakers handle the production's tone. They want the audience to laugh with their film, not at it, and that makes all of this far more goofily enjoyable than it deserves to be.

Not that Ayer makes any attempt to minimize the brutality. He allows Clay to be such an unrepentant badass that there were instances when — much like Verona — I wondered whether or not it was appropriate to be rooting for the guy. The dude's as unstoppable as Jason Vorhees (and even more vicious). He slices and dices his way through so many security guards, tech stooges, and high-priced mercenaries that I eventually lost count of how many he killed. Clay is essentially The Terminator — the 1984 version, not the "hasta la vista" variation from 1991.

Granted, that's an obvious observation on my part. It's not like Ayer makes an attempt to soften Clay's ends-justifies-the-means antics. But I do think it's still important to point out this decision on the director's part. This stylistic choice is almost nihilistically fetishistic, and hours after the promo screening, I still feel somewhat dirty for enjoying myself as much as I did.

But while the film's political leanings do not come anywhere close to meshing with my own, there is still something euphorically crowd-pleasing in watching Clay lay waste to a toxic capitalistic enterprise that joyfully preys upon an unprotected middle class and the clueless legal system that allows it to get away with it. The Beekeeper makes honey out of hooey, and if this plants roots and grows into a new franchise for Statham, I'll happily buzz into line to pollinate the box office with a few hard-earned dollars of my own to keep it blooming.