(1.5 stars)

“The Beekeeper” is a violent revenge fantasy that, like so many others before it, centers on a brooding male loner with a secret background and lethal skills who comes out of retirement when his [fill in the blank] is killed/kidnapped/abused. And in this formulaic fantasy, there’s a nod to the cinematic past.

It comes early: Jason Statham’s title character is a man of mystery who goes by the name Adam Clay. When his friend Eloise (Phylicia Rashad), a kindly mother figure who has been scammed by a phishing operation that drains the accounts of elderly shut-ins, takes her own life, Adam proceeds to burn the call center to the ground. This impulsive act earns the ire of the Gen Z mogul, Derek (Josh Hutcherson), who owns the business. Find him, Derek commands a doomed underling, Garnett (David Witts). Gather a hit squad and “go ‘Goodfellas’ on him.”

It’s a laughably inapt comparison to raise, even incidentally. But at a recent screening of the film, it would not be the last time an allusion would arise to a far, far better way to spend your time. Some viewers walked out comparing “Beekeeper” to the John Wick franchise, a sacrilegious reference that is accurate only in the broadest, clumsiest sense. Both are stories of grisly vengeance, true. But if the Wick filmography, in all its stylized, balletic, hyper-choreographed mayhem and glory, is “Swan Lake” — and it is — then “The Beekeeper” is “So You Think You Can Dance.”

One also might fairly compare it to the Equalizer movies. But they at least have Denzel Washington.

‘Equalizer 2’ proves Denzel Washington can make even a bad movie watchable

The killings don’t get more creative as Adam bludgeons and butchers his way up the food chain, dispatching his victims with the efficiency of Liam Neeson as he zeroes in on Derek, who has taken refuge in a Mar-a-Lago-like seaside compound with his mother (Jemma Redgrave), a business executive turned U.S. president. The high point comes early, when Garnett’s fingers are sawed off before he is tethered to a pickup truck that Adam sends careening, in a graceful arc, off a tall drawbridge.

“High point” may be overselling it.

Other surprises include Jeremy Irons as Derek’s lieutenant, a former CIA director whose main role seems to be to explain the film’s title.

In the most literal sense, Adam is an actual keeper of bees, tending to hives on Eloise’s property as the film opens. But he is also a veteran of a supersecret, off-the-books CIA operation called the Beekeeper program, whose mission, as it is laid out, is to maintain the integrity of the metaphorical human hive, protecting it from metaphorical wasps and hornets. When the intricate, interconnected functioning of the colony gets out of whack, as it were, sometimes a rogue worker must rise up from the anonymous masses to kill and replace the queen.

So Adam is at once a beekeeper, a Beekeeper and, it would appear, a bee. The figurative apian dialogue flows as thickly as honey at times, clogging the otherwise well-lubricated action.

As a director, David Ayer (who made his mark with the screenplay for “Training Day”) has been on a long, downward slide, from the gritty, edgy “End of Watch” to “Fury” to “Suicide Squad” to this. If the formulaic film ever finds its audience — and it’s all too clear that there’s a market for this kind of slickly produced, hindbrain pulp — the best that can be said for it is that the ending (devised by screenwriter Kurt Wimmer) is perfectly poised for “The Beekeeper 2.”

R. At area theaters. Contains strong violence throughout, pervasive crude language, some sexual references and drug use. 106 minutes.


A previous version of this article misspelled Josh Hutcherson’s name. The article has been corrected.

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