Review: In the ridiculous but fun ‘The Beekeeper,’ a dumb action buzz goes straight to your head

An action hero scowls.
Jason Statham in the movie “The Beekeeper.”
(Amazon MGM Studios)

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 time, 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 crowded theaters in December. Ayer’s overstuffed approach to filmmaking elevates Kurt Wimmer’s entertaining but rather thin script.

The PSA-like premise centers on a highly organized phishing scam targeting lonely elderly folks. A warning message pops up on their computers, they dial the number and a sleazy dude in a call center walks them through handing over all 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 for a 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 workwear as Adam, who is a literal beekeeper, delivering jars of honey to his warm landlady. He’s 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 out the predatory hornets.

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 lighted 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 these scammers wears a thick gold chain and satin shirt like a “Saturday Night Fever” extra, so it’s easy to distinguish the bad guys.

A man with frosted tips in a green jacket smiles.
Josh Hutcherson in the movie “The Beekeeper.”
(Daniel Smith / MGM Pictures)

The film is rife with these unsubtle and unexplained bits of flair, 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 agent 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), a parody of the monstrous crypto bro with a powerful mother (Jemma Redgrave) enabling his massive ego and shady shell companies. Adam sees things in right or wrong, black or white, and he 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 he doesn’t have to do much other than growl, wear a baseball cap and kill people 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 main 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 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-movie honey, it’s delectable.

Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.

‘The Beekeeper’

Rating: R, for strong violence throughout, pervasive language, some sexual references and drug use
Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Playing: In wide release Friday, Jan. 12