A film review by Craig J. Koban April 8, 2019


2019, R, 111 mins.


Jesse Eisenberg as Vincent Zaleski  /  Alexander Skarsgård as Anton Zaleski  /  Salma Hayek as Eva Torres  /  Michael Mando as Mark Vega

Written and directed by Kim Nguyen




THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT is a new techno-thriller that's about a bunch of industrious conmen that want to secretly install a vast fiber optic cable in the ground running from Kansas to New York that, if successful, will allow them a one millisecond advantage on all other investors in stock exchange transactions, thereby making them rich.  

Now, maybe the term techno-thriller could be used sarcastically in describing this film, seeing as its premise is not one the initially drums up a considerable amount of nail biting suspense (at least as far as the stresses of clandestine country wide construction are concerned).  Having said that, THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT emerges as modestly engaging because of two thanklessly committed lead performances and a timely theme about how corporations and some unscrupulously greedy individuals will stop at nothing to gain a fraction of an advantage over their competition to make a buck. 

Set nearly a decade ago in 2011 (which gives the film an added aura of feeling like it's based on a true story, even though it isn't), the story opens by explaining the speed by which information and transactions are completed between Kansas and the New Jersey based computers of the NYSE: 17 milliseconds.  That sounds fast...like...lightning fast.  A hummingbird only takes one millisecond to flap its wings (as referenced by one character, which helps gives meaning to the film's title), but to some that's simply not fast enough to get, shall we say, an illegal edge to make a fortune on the stock market.  This is where entrepreneur and high minded crook Vincent Zaleski (Jesse Eisenberg) comes in.  He thinks up a fairly ingenious, but highly difficult plan to run and bury a single line of fiber optic cable from the aforementioned locations that, with appropriate tinkering, will bring the transition speed down to 16 milliseconds. 



He can't do it alone, though, and decides to enlist in the brilliant tech guru help of his cousin Anton (an unrecognizable Alexander Skarsgard), who just might be the only person that could crack the code of re-writing the necessary software to make Vincent's dream a reality.  The pair, in turn, teams up with Mark Vega (no relation to PULP FICTION's Vincent, played by Michael Mando), who will oversee all of the grunt construction work to run the cable line.  All of these men are financed by a billionaire business mogul (Frank Schorpion), who places great pressure of the squad to get the job done in a timely fashion...or else.  Predictably, they face ample hardships and roadblocks along the way (which is not assisted by the fact that Anton is a high functioning autistic man that has his share of bad days), but they also face stiff competition in the form of Vincent and Anton's former boss (a scenery chewing Salma Hayek), who obviously wants to beat them at their own game.  She also wants to make them both suffer in immeasurable ways after they abandoned her and her company, which she perceives as a cowardly act of treachery.    

Most of the low key intrigue in watching THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT is in witnessing the litany of obstacles that are placed in Vincent's way.  Obviously, digging a small tunnel over such a vast geographical area with many barriers (some natural, some man made) leads to Vincent engaging in some spontaneous out-of-the-box thinking and intuition.  The fiber optic cable tunnel line has to run as straight as possible, not to mention that it can't run too deep into the ground at the risk of signal degradation (no more than 10 feet deep).   Evidently, one of the challenges faced is property owners, which requires Vincent and his squad to use some snake oil salesman-like charm (along with promises of cash payments) to convince these unwilling homeowners to play along.  One huge and seemingly impassable obstacle comes in the form of an Amish community that clearly wants to have nothing to do with Vincent's scheme, and they can't be bought off either.  Then there's the horrendous environmental rigors as well, like having to drill and dig through waterways, swamps, and mountains, the latter of which requires seriously expensive and imported drills to even make a dent.  The FBI is even in on impeding the actions of Vincent et al, especially when it comes to investigating whether or not Anton has stolen any tech secrets from his ex-boss's company. 

The performance trifecta on display here makes this material really work, and Eisenberg is in his absolute wheelhouse playing an obnoxiously fast talking businessman that relishes in stepping over just about anyone to the see his plan through to successful fruition.  The actor has played numerous versions of this same deplorably unsympathetic character before, but he's so damn good at it that one is willing to give him a pass here.  Hayek is also a rather inspired choice as her hostilely antagonistic businesswoman that's arguably just as ruthless, if not more, than Vincent.  She also makes several threats against Anton's well being throughout the film, seeing as the code he's using to ensure the 16ms speeds for his fiber optic plan was originally written while he was under her employment.  And speaking of Anton, Skarsgard is a revelation here, bald, uncoordinated and unbalanced, and usually looking like he just stepped out of a TWELVE MONKEYS psyche ward, the usually ruggedly handsome actor dials down his man candy image and instead fully and physically immerses in this complex genius that's arguably the smartest man in the film, but has great difficulty maintaining a meaningful conversation with anyone under any normal circumstance. 

Unfortunately, for as rock solid as the performances are as well as the initially gripping story arc, it's oftentimes hard to overlook how slow moving and frequently ill focused THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT is at times.  There's also a lot of distracting kitchen sink elements that are hastily thrown into the narrative mixing bowl, with most of them not really being combined together with much symmetry (beyond the race-against-the-clock caper elements, the story also throws in odd moments of comedy and, worst of all, a painfully forced subplot involving terminal illness that you know will have a deciding influence on the changing motivations of one character late in the proceedings).  One big nagging flaw is what THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT is really trying to say about technology run amok, slimy Wall Street investment strategies, and the toxic rise of pure greed in America.  When all is said and done, THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT could have been much more thoughtful as a piece of social and economic satire. 

As a strange cinematic cocktail of an offbeat buddy comedy, a high finance drama, and a weird computer thriller, THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT is a movie with great potential that never fully pulls itself together as well as it should have.  The inspired performances and worth the price of admission alone, and there's some undeniably frightening undertones to the film's premise when it comes to rapidly evolving technology and how that can be abused by the wrong type of people in power in society at the expense of the little people.  Overall, THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT is a decent VOD rental, but a work that's hard to recommend for immediate theatrical consumption.  And most viewers will undoubtedly forget about the film soon after seeing it.  

Maybe not a millisecond after exiting the cinema...but soon. 

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