The Hummingbird Project is a film about speed, how a millisecond of speed can earn millions of extra dollars a year on Wall Street. Being incrementally faster than the competition – even the amount of time it takes for a hummingbird to flap its wings (hence the title) – can make someone dominate the stock market and put them in an extreme place of power. Putting this all on paper might seem exciting, a race against time for success and money in a world that’s already rapid-fire, yet The Hummingbird Project is far too often a slog, moving at an sludgy pace that would put any day trader in the Dark Ages.
In fact, The Hummingbird Project is actually about laying a thousand mile stretch of cable from Kansas to New Jersey. This straight line of cable will go through protected parks and Amish homes, but will allow traders to be milliseconds faster than their competition. The brains of the operation are Anton Zaleski (Alexander Skarsgård) and his cousin Vinny (Jesse Eisenberg), who quit the tech firm they both work for and try to get the jump on their former boss, Eva Torres (Salma Hayek).
While The Hummingbird Project sets its stakes up in terms of the world of Wall Street, writer/director Kim Nguyen does a poor job explaining why these characters would attempt this type of venture on their own, and more importantly, why the audience should care about such a plan. Beyond some vague explanations of family security and proving parents wrong, there’s little reason to root for Vinny and Anton’s plan. Even worse, Nguyen doesn’t explain the larger implications of this major gambit until far too late in the film. Characters often question the idea of moving data only a few milliseconds faster, but not until a deus ex machina conversation Anton has with a bartender around the third act do we understand the economic significance.
Because the stakes of this goal are poorly defined, about halfway through, Nguyen throws in personal stakes that only seem to be inserted because the film has had far too little up to that point. Vinny is discovered to have stomach cancer that needs immediate care that can’t be taken due to the large scale of his current project, and Anton is threatened by Eva with potential jail time for possibly stealing intellectual property. By this point in the film, the stakes just feel like too little too late and a way for Nguyen to rectify how insignificant this story has felt up until then.
Thankfully, The Hummingbird Project has a solid cast that does make the film worthwhile. Eisenberg is sort of in his smarmy, fast-talking mode that still works here, and Hayek at least gets several opportunities to chew the scenery in her larger-than-life portrayal of Eva. It’s also wonderful to see Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul’s Michael Mando as a contractor for the team but it’s Skarsgård that is the true standout. After a stretch of interesting performances in less than stellar films (Hold the Dark, Mute), Skarsgård plays the awkward, balding computer genius Anton surprisingly well. It’s a complete 180 from what one would expect from Skarsgård and it’s a welcome shock in a film that needs some shaking up.
The Hummingbird Project’s main flaw though is just a lack of momentum, while pretending to have huge stakes, without ever figuring out how to present those stakes. The Hummingbird Project isn’t a complete mess, it’s just bland and with a significant misunderstanding of what the film needs at any given moment. The performances are what rescue The Hummingbird Project, but it’s just not enough to get this story off the ground.