One would think that a story about digging fiber-optic cable lines, Wall Street micro-transactions and the Amish would not make a compelling drama. One would be right, but you have to give writer-director Kim Nguyen’s “The Hummingbird Project” points for the effort.
One might also think those oddly specific elements could only come in a story based on real life, but this time one would be wrong. This is all from Nguyen’s furtive imagination.
Vincent Zaleski, played by Jesse Eisenberg, has a dream of making a whole lot of money in not much time. Sixteen milliseconds, to be precise — the time it takes a hummingbird to flap its wings once. It’s also the time he hopes to send a computer signal from one financial data system to another, from Kansas to New Jersey. Sending such a signal in 16 milliseconds, faster than the competition can do it, would mean making millions on the rapid-fire computer-aided stock transactions on the New York Stock Exchange.
What Vincent needs is a fiber-optic cable between Kansas and New Jersey, which doesn’t exist. But he’s got an investor, Bryan Taylor (Frank Schorpion), who will bankroll such a project. He’s also got his cousin, Anton (Alexander Skarsgård), a balding computer wizard, who can develop the software and massage the hardware to cut the delivery time to that crucial 16 seconds.
With Anton running the technical side and Vincent riding his contractor (Michael Mando) to keep the digging crews moving, the project faces many obstacles — from digging through granite in the federally protected Appalachians to convincing recalcitrant Amish to allow the line to pass under their land. But the biggest impediment is Eva Torres (Salma Hayek), their hard-charging ex-boss, who will resort to all kinds of dirty tricks to stop the Zaleskis and get a faster signal for herself.
Nguyen works to make this offbeat plot relatable by humanizing the Zaleskis, giving Vincent an ailment and Anton a worried wife (Sarah Goldberg) and kids. He’s also blessed with Hayek in full dragon-lady mode, at which she excels.
But no matter how hard Nguyen and the cast tries in “The Hummingbird Project,” there’s little a filmmaker can do to make computer screens and digging cable worth watching for two hours. As the Zaleskis eventually learn, sometimes you have to know when you’re licked.
‘The Hummingbird Project’
Opened March 15 in select cities; opens Friday, April 5, at the Broadway Centre Cinemas (Salt Lake City). Rated R for language throughout. Running time: 111 minutes.