Whatever it takes to keep a techno hellraiser on its feet, The Hummingbird Project doesn’t have it. Just don’t blame the film’s two lead actors. Jesse Eisenberg surges with all the manic energy he showed in The Social Network, playing Vincent Zaleski, the hustler behind an idea to run fiber-optic cable from Kansas to a Wall Street databank in New Jersey to gain a millisecond of info advantage — the speed of a hummingbird’s wing beat — that could bring in billions.
Alexander Skarsgård excels as Vincent’s cousin Anton, the genius coder behind the idea. The cousins are Russian Jews, raised in New York and looking for a big idea to run with. Playing geek with a vengeance, Skarsgård shaves his head, walks stooped and does everything possible to dim his hottie starshine. Even that can’t distract from the fact that the convoluted script, written by Quebecois director Kim Nguyen (War Witch), keeps tripping over itself in a strenuous effort to drum up interest into a premise that is decidedly uncinematic. Take Eva Torres, the hedge-fund manager played to the hilt and beyond by Salma Hayek, who’s eager to steal the tunnel concept from the Zaleskis, who used to work for her. She’s the she-wolf always nipping at their heels and working overtime to trump their plan with her own.
Wait, I’m making the movie sound like way more fun than it is. Nguyen is frequently sidetracked with laying out the logistics of the project as the cousins hire drilling expert Mark Vega (a stellar Michael Mando) and rope in a principal financier in Bryan Taylor (Frank Schorpion). Then there’s the matter of getting rights to dig tunnels under everything from national parks to the homes of private citizens (a no-go for the Amish). The minutia weighs a ton and there’s lots and lots of drilling.
The film’s documentary-like attention to detail may lead you to think that The Hummingbird Project is based on a true story. Not a bit, it’s all a Nguyen flight of fancy. To add a sense of emotional intimacy to the dusty details of high-frequency trading, the filmmaker invents a stomach-cancer crisis for Vincent that he ignores to keep the project on track. And, of course, at the last effing minute, something goes wrong with Anton’s code. Nguyen can stir up all the sturm and drang he wants, but Hummingbird feels as humdrum and impersonal as a blueprint.