The Hummingbird Project is an odd movie that constantly switches tones without ever rising above mildly interesting. It has good performances and seems knowledgeable about a subject I have never really seen tackled on the big screen before. Yet its characters are only partially developed and I am not sure I actually learned that much. Writer/director Kim Nguyen tries to use subtle metaphors to comment on his characters’ lives and our own dependence on technology. Somehow, it mostly falls flat. It is a weird comedy/drama with slight thriller elements that does not work as any of those things.
The story follows Vinnie and Anton, cousins who work in the world of high-frequency trading. Vinnie comes up with the idea of quitting their jobs and using Anton’s genius to build a fiber-optic cable tunnel on a straight line from Kansas to New Jersey. This would make it one-millisecond faster for stock market traders to make deals. It would also make Vinnie and Anton a whole lot of money. The plot concerns their struggles to turn this into a reality as their former boss attempts to undercut them.
As I said, The Hummingbird Project (105 minutes without the end credits) is all over the map tonally. For the most part, it is a drama with moments of humor. But Nguyen also injects some suspense in the competition subplot with the old boss. It is too much, though I am not entirely sure what the best strategy would have been. Maybe a little less plot and more character-based stuff? The featured actors are all very good, so they definitely could have pulled it off. As it is, the movie gets distracted every time it appears about to go somewhere.
However, whenever I was prepared to give up on it completely, the performances gave me hope. Jesse Eisenberg is his usual sardonic, aggressive jerk as Vinnie. It is a role he could probably do in his sleep at this point, so I understand why he keeps doing it. He is quick-witted and has some funny lines, but I am pretty tired of seeing him do the same shtick.
As his brilliant, socially-awkward, cousin, Alexander Skarsgård brings notes I have never seen him play before. His characters are generally confident and charming. Here he is kind-hearted, but perpetually uncomfortable. He is the brains behind the scenes, holing up in a hotel room as he works on code. He is quiet, intense, focused and trying really hard to keep his emotions in check. He is absolutely the best thing in The Hummingbird Project.
There are also two key supporting performances. One is splashy, but empty; the other is solid, if unspectacular. The showy one is from Salma Hayek as their equally ambitious, and even more ruthless, former employer. She is always on the verge of chewing the scenery, but the movie seems unsure if she is important or not. While Hayek is certainly energetic, she is mostly used as a plot device. The other major support comes from Michael Mando as the cousins’ drilling expert, Mark. He is calm, smart and useful for moving the story forward. Mark is basically the straight-man, but Mando is charismatic enough to make him feel necessary.
The Hummingbird Project tries to be many different things. Some of them are sort of effective for a scene or two, though that is mainly due to the acting. It is so unfocused it became a challenge to engage with it in any meaningful way. I like learning new things, even in a movie that only uses its topic as a scene-setter. The Hummingbird Project is a lot more interested in high-frequency trading than that, yet it was unable to make that world feel accessible. Perhaps it would be for the already initiated. Even they may find this to be messy and forgettable.
2 out of 5
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