‘The Hummingbird Project’ is a heady train wreck

Sunday, April 14, 2019 - 4:13pm

"The Hummingbird Project"

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Some real-life stories are, simply put, too banal to be told on the screen. But in the utterly perplexing case of “The Hummingbird Project,” writer-director Kim Nguyen (“War Witch”) delivers a completely fictional story that is more banal than reality itself. Everything about this mess of a nano-financial engineering thriller begs the words “Based on real events” to appear on the screen at some point to justify its existence. (They don’t.) Not only is the film’s premise ludicrous in the way that many nonfiction film adaptations are, but the idea is so uncinematic and dry that I’m kind of impressed the movie was made in the first place.

“The Hummingbird Project” follows the story of two Wall Street schemers who hatch a ridiculous plan to shake up the entire system in the wake of the financial crisis. Vincent, a conniving hustler played by a typically neurotic Jesse Eisenberg (“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”), teams up with his balding and blundering cousin, Anton (Alexander Skarsgård, “The Aftermath”) to make millions through a fiber-optic cable that connects from Kansas to New York City, allowing the pair to make financial trades a millisecond before other buyers.

This dense premise would be fascinating if it were even the slightest bit believable, but the truth is that Nguyen is a filmmaker, not an investment banking connoisseur, and it shows. His tendency to brush over and dart around the actual mechanics of his idea are detrimental to the film even to the most casual observer. You don’t need to be a financial wizard to know that the 1000-mile line might not work, but you do need to be one to write a working screenplay about it. At one point, Anton attempts to explain the cable to a talkative waitress and instead of a concrete answer, he instead becomes fixated on — and, trust me, I couldn’t believe this either — lemon farmers in Zimbabwe.

Several of these unintentionally hilarious moments, times when the film’s zany momentum careened it off the tracks, at least kept me cracking up, if nothing else. Another of one of these I absolutely have to mention is a sweat-drenched Eisenberg wielding a chainsaw as he marches up a forest trail muttering to himself “I’m gonna fucking tear you down” with the intensity of a child whose birthday candles were blown out by someone else.

In essence, the film is too dull to be emotional and too shaky in its logic to be intellectual. The result is a genre-hopping compilation of half-baked scenes that don’t even sort of work. Sometimes, the movie aims for straight horror, with Salma Hayek’s (“The Hitman’s Bodyguard”) villain, Eva Torres, threatening the protagonists progress in wannabe Walter White fashion. At other times, the film plays out as a biopic of a nonexistent person, throwing equally nonexistent personal maladies at Vincent and Anton to thwart their efforts. “Hummingbird” even dabbles in sloppy social commentary a scene in which Amish farmers refuse to let the cousins dig their pipeline through “God’s land.”

Eisenberg’s performance is in every way an unbroken continuation of all of his performances thus far, as the brainy, detached genius who is too invested in his work to feel emotions. It’s almost as if Nguyen watched the actor’s excellent portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network” and thought, “Hey, that guy could go to Wall Street!” Zuckerberg and Vincent are truly the same characters, and that makes the film entertaining even as it falls apart at the seams.