So many hurdles stand in the way of Kim Nguyen’s muddled drama/thriller/heist film The Hummingbird Project, but the fault doesn’t fall on the lead actors. Jesse Eisenberg and Alexander Skarsgard give two of their quirkiest performances, but their characters still stand out as rich and believable, although not especially likable. That’s one of the film’s major narrative stumbling blocks, that the greed driving both protagonists to isn’t balanced by any redeeming qualities whatsoever.
Maybe if the duo, Eisneberg’s maniacal bully Vincent Zaleski and Skarsgard’s introverted coder Anton, were simply trying to rob a bank or something we could find something exciting in them to root for. But the plot they set into motion is the epitome of Dullsville, as they try to game the Wall Street system by gaining a millisecond of advantage, the speed of a hummingbird batting its wing, over the other traders. To do it they quit their jobs at a major firm, pissing off their rabid hyena of a boss Eva (Salma Hayek), and set out to build a fiber-optic line directly from Kansas to Jersey.
If you want to watch Eisenberg and a balding Skarsgard stand around and watch construction workers dig holes, then The Hummingbird Project is for you.
There are other things that happen to complicate matters (mountains and rivers are a problem), but Nguyen, who also penned the script, never finds anything that makes this story compelling for the big screen. A number of variables are thrown into the mix haphazardly to try and compensate, but the best have less to do with the scheme itself and instead focus on the personal setbacks Anton and Vincent face. Anton’s eccentricity is both a blessing and curse, and being separated from his family is a constant strain for someone who appears to be on the Autism spectrum. Victor has a massive chip on his shoulder, not unlike his Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, and is Hell-bent on defeating Eva and proving everyone how smart he is. A health issue also crops up, but Nguyen forgets about it for long stretches until the story needs a sentimental edge.
However, by that point we’ve hardly been given a reason to care much. Eva is set up as the major rival but we’re never shown, until too late, why she’s deemed such a threat other than she’s rich and vindictive. Vincent isn’t much better, and he Perhaps if less time had been spent focusing on logistical headaches of laying cable, and more on humanizing Vincent and Anton so that we could connect with them, The Hummingbird Project would be a film worthy of investing time into.