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Jason Statham stars as Clay in director David Ayer's The Beekeeper.Daniel Smith/Courtesy of Amazon MGM Studios

The Beekeeper

Directed by David Ayer

Written by Kurt Wimmer

Starring Jason Statham, Josh Hutcherson and Jeremy Irons

Classification 14A; 105 minutes

Opens in theatres Jan. 12

Critic’s Pick

There is no anxiety in this increasingly stressful world that cannot be soothed by watching Jason Statham kick someone in the throat.

This is a universal truth known all too well by the makers of The Beekeeper, a knowingly ridiculous new entry into the all-powerful genre that I’m going to christen Cinema Stathama. You know the kind of movie: Statham plays a stoic badass who is equal parts bald and British (always British; the guy is the last movie star standing to never have attempted to perform in an accent other than his own).

Whether his onscreen hero fights mercenaries, madmen or megalodons, Statham gets to save the day with a smirk while moviegoers get to experience the vicarious thrills of zero-consequence murder. Win-win, especially if the movie opens in the dead of January, a hungover stretch of non-time in which movies requiring audiences to exercise brain cells should be legally barred from opening.

By Cinema Stathama considerations, The Beekeeper is a masterpiece – the best B(ee)-movie of this cold-hearted season.

When the film opens, Statham’s brooding Mr. Clay (no first name provided nor required) is tending to the bees belonging to his neighbour, a kind-hearted widow played by Phylicia Rashad. But after her character is bilked out of her life savings by some sleazy hackers – soulless boiler-room hipsters who seem to be boogeymen imagined by the American Association of Retired Persons – Mr. Clay springs into action. It turns out that in addition to his fondness for hives and honey, Mr. Clay was once part of an elite black-ops force actually known as “Beekeepers” – unstoppable killing machines who were trained by government forces to “protect the hive.”

And so begins the throat-kicking. So much throat-kicking, in fact, that Mr. Clay uncovers a sticky situation that goes all the way to the top, which is where Statham gets to go toe-to-larynx with everyone from Josh Hutcherson (as a faux-woke tech bro who exudes a Hunter Biden-y failson stench) to Minnie Driver (the curiously complacent chief of the CIA) to Jeremy Yes-It-Has-Come-to-This Irons (the smartest bad guy in a room full of morally corrupt doofuses).

In sloppier hands, The Beekeeper would cling to the lower rung of the Cinema Stathama canon – more Expend4bles than Wrath of Man. But director David Ayer (End of Watch, Fury) makes sure to consistently inject Kurt Wimmer’s often-janky script with a rush of winking outlandishness, turning trash into dumpster-diving treasure.

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Emmy Raver-Lampman as Agent Verona Parker.Daniel Smith/Handout

There is one scene in particular, midway through, in which Mr. Clay faces off against an especially psychotic foe (the “Beekeeper” who replaced him after he retired) that is so over the top in its bullet-riddled garishness that it tips over into backhanded comedy – a kind of “can you believe this?” moment in which Ayer gets to both embrace and reject the obligations of contemporary ultraviolence.

Although the film is curiously lacking in the blood-squirt department overall – an oddly sanitized tactic given the film’s target audience and the fact that Ayer has never been a particularly squeamish filmmaker – Ayer mostly has the right idea: shoot first, never ask questions, then shoot some more.

Statham, meanwhile, knows exactly what he’s doing, and who he’s doing it for. Even though there are more than a few moments here in which it is clear that the actor isn’t quite putting his own life on the line à la Tom Cruise, the sheer presence of Statham’s frame – rigid when it needs to be, a constant whirl of flips, jabs and head-butts when it doesn’t – makes a fist-pumping impression. Worthy, even, of buzz.

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