Hummingbird tries to employ more character beats and less physical beats in order to drive the story forward, but the attempt is only half-hearted
You can’t win, can you? You single-handedly succeed all of the Stallones, Schwarzeneggers, Snipes’s and Seagals of this world to basically become the last remaining bona fide b-movie action star of your generation who still provides adult violence in a PG-13-neutered universe, and yet nobody takes you seriously as anything other than entertaining-but-mindless muscle. Any outright attempts to expand beyond your action sphere are largely unsuccessful, and so you attempt to merely stretch that sphere, adding dramatic weight to marry up to your usual quota of action satisfaction. But even that doesn’t work. Half your viewing audience wonder why the drama isn’t better considered, the characters aren’t better developed, and the acting is so stilted, whilst the other half – your core action audience – wonder why you’re holding back in your speciality department. Statham can’t win.
Unfortunately Hummingbird – ironically renamed Redemption in the States, probably because it’s a more ‘Statham-style’ title – falls precisely into that problematic middle category, incapable of fully delivering the goods on either the action or drama front, and therefore remaining unremarkable in both spheres. It’s a tribute to Jason Statham that he doesn’t stop trying – Blitz, Safe and even Parker all attempted to expand his scope, with varying degrees of success, none of which was commercial – and that, in amidst Expendables (and Fast & Furious) sequels, he still plans to continue down this route (his latest,Homefront, is supposedly a more thoughtful actioner penned by none other than Stallone himself), but his efforts don’t always yield results.
On the one hand I want to commend Jason Statham for striving to do something different. It’s what almost all action stars dream of, after all. On the other hand, few have actually managed to pull it off. And Statham isn’t really one of those few. Even Stallone, who has spent a career trying to do a broader range of work, has returned to do what he does best, occasionally pushing the envelope of the character-driven content of his features (Rocky Balboa) but generally playing it quite safe (Expendables), and never coming close to his career-high Copland, which was surely an exception to the rule.
Statham started things in reverse, with Brit gangster flicks for Guy Ritchie that required no fists of fury, but, ever since The Transporter films, he hasn’t been able to turn back time. Hummingbird once again tries to employ more character beats and less physical beats in order to drive the story forward, but the attempt is only half-hearted; you can tell that beneath the drunken, unshaven, straggly-haired homeless wreck that The Stath starts off looking like, that there’s a mean animal desperate to spin wildly out of control and break everybody’s heads without even breaking a sweat. So, despite his committed performance – which is certainly far better than we normally see from him – you bide your time, waiting for him to do just that. And, sure enough, he does: a suitably brutal 5-on-one fight where he single-handedly takes out a bunch of drunken patrons at the restaurant where he cleans pots and pans. The ass-kicking gains him a job as a Chinese mob enforcer, and the nickname Crazy Joe (the French title for the film), but most of the action from then on out is just in montage form. Instead we focus on the drama, which really isn’t strong enough to keep your attention.
Ironically, the story itself could be regarded as an analogy of Statham’s own plight in action cinema – his character finds that the only thing that he is good at, and thus the best way he can make lots of money, is beating people up. Unfortunately, despite its best attempt, the film was never going to be viewed for its subtlety and symbolism, and so the message (if it was even intentional) is lost in the mix.
After all, this is a film where an alcoholic ex-soldier, who sees CG hummingbirds in his feverish PTSD nightmares, falls in love with a nun running a food shelter for the homeless on the streets of London.
In fact, strip away the fight sequences and this low budget (but admittedly glossy) affair probably amounts to little more than a well-made BBC TV production, a ninety-minute one-shot story not wholly unlike Sean Bean’s latest, Cleanskin; straight-to-Blu-ray through and through.
Credit to Statham for trying – honestly, I so wanted to score the movie higher just for effort – but he needs to stop diluting his ingredients when he combines them; rather than lower the action quota to raise the dramatic quota, he should aim for both. Either do dramatically-driven fare where the action is prevalent but plot-integral, rather than merely viscerally entertaining, perhaps taking on a more Warrior / The Fighter-like role which would show off his physical prowess whilst lending him some more heavyweight acting material, or do action-driven vehicles where he tries to bring more depth to the character (c.f.Rambo). Unfortunately he simply hasn’t shown himself to have the kind of range to warrant the former. He’s too damn stoic. Sure, he’s a charismatic actor, but dramatic weight is not his forte, he’s spent too long perfecting that determined scowl; his all-round 6 o’clock shadow visage now indelibly linked to the ass-kicking action icons that he is most commonly associated with portraying.
Hummingbird deserves a watch. If you like Statham then you’ve probably grown somewhat tired of his more one-note affairs, and the potential for something different is quite enticing. And this is unquestionably different. Just don’t expect it to fully work at what it sets out to do. Certainly this is not just another bruising brawler from The Stath, but its attempt to take him to more dramatic places – where story and character mean more than fists and firearms – is only halfway effective, leaving you with somewhat undercooked performances, marginally underdeveloped characters and a slightly unsatisfactory narrative, and, at the same time, with only a hint of action to provide visceral thrills. Hell, even the Studios didn’t know what to do with it – just look at the marketing campaign, not to mention the debacle over the different names in different territories.
The punch line
Honestly, it’s far from a bad movie, it’s just a bit of a diluted movie, failing to deliver the requisite goods to his core action audience whilst not quite delivering anything new and compelling in return.
The Stath probably deserves more, but I’m not sure he’s ever going to get it so, in the meantime, I’d personally prefer if he returned to what he does best – kicking ass with no questions asked.
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