In movies great (“The Social Network”) and not even down the street from great (“Now You See Me”), Jesse Eisenberg has long excelled at playing brilliant, socially awkward, speed-talking outliers.
So it’s no surprise Eisenberg delivers strong work as he returns to that comfort zone in writer-director Kim Nguyen’s slick and ambitious but inconsistent and uneven financial-techno thriller “The Hummingbird Project,” but it’s not enough to carry the day.
This is a curious endeavor that has the feel of a “based on a true story” tale — but even though the basic framework about high-frequency trading reminded me of Michael Lewis’ non-fiction book “Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt,” “The Hummingbird Project” is pure fiction.
The story kicks off in October 2011 (such a specific timeline contributes to the “true story” vibe). Eisenberg’s pie-in-the-sky dreamer Vincent and Vincent’s genius cousin Anton (Alexander Skarsgard, bespectacled and bald and virtually unrecognizable) work for a trading firm run by Salma Hayek’s Eva Torres, who with her silver mane and tinted glasses and ruthless ways could be an intergalactic general in a superhero movie.
Eva’s firm specializes in the hyper-speed trading of stocks and commodities. If her team can gain an advantage as slight as one-sixteenth of a millisecond (the time it takes for a hummingbird to flap its wings just once) over the competition, it would mean hundreds of millions in profits.
Vincent believes he has figured out a plan to crack that code — and he persuades Anton to join him in quitting the firm so they can pursue the dream on their own. (This does NOT sit well with Eva, who vows revenge like a Bond villain.)
So here’s the idea. They’re gonna build an underground, fiber-optic cable line stretching from the Kansas electronic exchange data center to the New York Stock Exchange data center in New Jersey. Anton can do his “Beautiful Mind” thing and calculate various ways to shave time, while Vincent will secure financial backing for a project that will entail cutting down majestic trees, digging under through land owned by techno-averse Amish farmers and drilling through Appalachian mountainsides.
If all goes well, they’ll actually get that millisecond advantage.
Writer-director Nguyen cleverly unspools the story like a heist film, with Vincent wheeling and dealing every step of the way, whether it means making deals with some 54 crews to drill and dig along the pathway or smooth-talking an investor into committing another $15 to the project.
But there’s plenty of overkill, e.g., scenes of nature in all its glory — clear streams, majestic mountains, leaves bursting into fall colors — contrasted with obscenely intrusive heavy machinery tearing up the land. Not to mention a scene in which Anton uses an analogy about farming to explain the project to a waitress, and when the waitress asks what the farmers would get from this whole plan, Anton says, “Nothing. They’re mathematically irrelevant.”
Throw in an arbitrary, shamelessly manipulative plot curveball designed to Put Things In Perspective, and the B.S. factor in “The Hummingbird Project” runs a lot thicker and deeper than that fiber-optic cable.
‘The Hummingbird Project’
The Orchard presents a film written and directed by Kim Nguyen. Rated R (for language throughout). Running time: 111 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.