Jason ‘The Stath’ Statham deserves credit where it’s due; he can make any job look diabolically masculine. Even the serene, mindful act of beekeeping welcomes the hyperbolic male ego with open arms whenever he slips into his bee suit. Except this is a Jason Statham movie after all, so not is all as it seems. He is not just a beekeeper. He is also a retired… beekeeper (the moniker for an off-the-books super secret service for which he previously worked). On cue, Statham begins to preach about how he protects the hive, and uses honey to burn one of his enemies alive. Barry B. Benson would be horrified – this is an appropriation of bee culture! Unlike Bee Movie however, The Beekeeper is no laughing matter. It is a stony-faced, relentless action flick containing an unusually high number of bee metaphors.

When Adam Clay (Statham) learns that an elderly friend of his took her own life after being robbed blind by scammers, he sets out for bloody revenge. Trained by an agency unknown even at the top levels of government, these criminals soon feel the sting of vengeance unleashed upon them. And Clay isn’t done, uncovering a network of thieves and lowlifes all connected to the rich kid CEO Derek Danforth (Josh Hutcherson), who hides behind his powerful mother’s coattails. All the while, FBI Agent Verona Parker (Emmy Raver-Lampman) is in pursuit, dedicated to rooting out the crooks while also stopping Clay from taking the law into his own hands. 

Courtesy of Amazon MGM Studios

The Beekeeper is a movie that should be absurd, for its own sake. But director David Ayer seemingly doesn’t feel at home going for the comedic angle. Kurt Wimmer’s script doesn’t help; it marches so incessantly towards the climax that it rarely gets to take stock of just how ludicrous its premise is. Everyone talks with deadly sincerity about how Clay is a ‘queen slayer’ bee who will kill the hive’s matriarch for failing to produce good male offspring. Any humour feels completely coincidental, the straight-laced tone feeling bizarrely off colour. You will find yourself laughing at The Beekeeper far more than you laugh with it, the story being brought down even further by some horrendous dialogue – “to be(e) or not to be(e)” is about as good as it gets. 

Statham’s talent for fictitious fisty cuffs remains among Hollywood’s most impressive, and The Beekeeper has this in spades. But the refined action cinematography of the John Wick films is nowhere to be seen. Clay virtually never uses guns, meaning he has to get up close and personal with his targets. The camera makes the mistake of doing the same, meaning that too much of the film is a flurry mess of punches and testosterone. It isn’t all bad – a scene involving an elevator is satisfyingly gruesome – but the final fights in particular suffer badly from overediting. 

The Beekeeper also suffers from feeling too predictable. Statham’s best moments come when he has a charismatic, similarly jacked-up counterpart to riff with – say, a giant prehistoric mega shark or a Dwayne Johnson. In The Beekeeper, he has nothing. The closest you get is his replacement beekeeper who is assigned to hunt him down, and she only lasts what feels like seconds. Taylor James’ colourful mercenary leader Lazarus makes a better go of it, becoming one of the more memorable characters, but his failure also seems like a matter of time. At no point do you feel any of the villains stand the slimmest chance of getting in Clay’s way, least of all Hutcherson who spends the entire film imitating every insufferable tech bro that you can think of (albeit with a better jawline). For a movie brimming with battles, any real sense of danger is strangely lacking.

The Beekeeper’s stubborn reluctance to be anything other than brawn-over-brains action fodder is a let down. Occasionally you see glimmers of the self-aware, comedically talented Statham longing to come to the surface (think Spy, still hands down his best ever role), but the story quickly shuts him down. The film makes the mistake of sticking to one idea and style far too firmly, ensuring that the end product feels as off as it does disappointing. The Stath can punch his way through baddies in his sleep at this point, but he has shown on several occasions now that he is capable of offering more. That Ayer’s movie can’t do likewise is as bemusing as it is torrid.

The Beekeeper is out in cinemas now.