Review: Kim Nguyens The Hummingbird Project is a casual charmer

THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT (Kim Nguyen). 111 minutes. Opens Friday (March 22). See listing. Rating: NNNFor most of its running time,.


THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT (Kim Nguyen). 111 minutes. Opens Friday (March 22). See listing. Rating: NNN

For most of its running time, The Hummingbird Project sits pleasantly between curious buddy movie and by-the-numbers corporate satire, and if that seems like an odd combination, well, the whole thing is about strange combinations.

Montreal writer/director Kim Nguyens latest after the hallucinatory Two Lovers And A Bear and the clenched surveillance drama Eye On Juliet follows the efforts of two cousins, hyper-confident numbers guy Vincent (Jesse Eisenberg) and hyper-focused engineer Anton (Alexander Skarsgard), as they set out to run a fibre-optic line from Kansas to Manhattan.

The idea is to give Wall Street traders a couple of milliseconds advantage on the market tickers, which could translate into hundreds of millions of dollars or just give certain brokerage houses the feeling that it might, which is all that really matters. (The film is set in 2011, with the memory of the 2008 meltdown still fresh in peoples minds.) All Vincent and Anton have to do is figure out the most direct path for the line, acquire the appropriate land rights and start digging.

Naturally, things dont go as planned. Not everyone in the financial sector sees the appeal of the plan, homeowners dont understand why someone would want to buy ground rights to a subsection of their property and Vincent has this weird acid-reflux thing going on. But the cousins push forward, sinking more and more of themselves into this quixotic venture, because thats who they are and because if they dont, they lose everything.

When its rolling on the relationship between Vincent and Anton and, by extension, on Eisenberg and Skarsgards awkward rapport The Hummingbird Project is a casual charmer. Its fun to watch the actors play these characters, to see Eisenberg deploying his usual fast-talking-hustler thing at each new obstacle Vincent encounters and showing us how Vincent is trying to barrel through whatever stressful thing is in front of him. Meanwhile, Skarsgard hides his angular good looks under male pattern baldness and a paunch to play the more broadly comic role of Anton, the fussy genius.

Salma Hayek turns up as the duos competitive ex-boss, and Better Call Sauls Michael Mando and Barrys Sarah Goldberg turn up in smallish supporting roles Nguyens always had a strong instinct for casting, and his trust in his actors pays off nicely all around. No one is wasted here, and if the stakes never feel that high from one scene to the next, The Hummingbird Project clicks along nicely just the same.

And honestly, theres nothing wrong with lightweight entertainment. When I caught the film in the final days of TIFF last year, it felt like a much-needed palate cleanser after days of heavier fare.

Until the last act, anyway, when Nguyen starts running through the films themes with a highlighter, as if hes worried we might have missed them. (Theyre pretty simple: be true to yourself, success is meaningless if you lose sight of what really matters, the real Hummingbird Project was the friends we made along the way, et cetera.) It lets the air out of the movie a little, and you can feel Eisenberg and Skarsgard struggling in a couple of key scenes.

But even then, its fine. The Hummingbird Project is a modest movie with modest goals, and if it stumbles a bit toward the end, it still gets to where its going.

@normwilner

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