The Equalizer is ridiculous. Batshit crazy. It’s a 2014 action thriller with 80’s sensibilities, which is charming in a way but maddening in others. Seeing Denzel Washington as an unstoppable tough guy has its merits but he’s done it much better before and there are simply too many dumb decisions in Antoine Fuqua’s film to really give it an identity of its own.
Based on the fun but forgettable 80’s television show the film centers around a man with a background in serious government action enjoying a quiet retirement until a person in need kickstarts his need to be the protector. That person in need is a hooker played by Chloë Grace Moretz, one of the least believable hookers in recent memory, and after a nice half hour of character development the film evolves into Washington’s Robert McCall taking on the Russian mob. In no uncertain terms. This guy runs afoul of a whole slew of tattooed murderers of men. Which is where the film starts to lose the goodwill built up in the first act’s character-centric focus.
McCall is a tough man. A widower with OCD, insomnia, and a desire to time everything he does. As played by the consummate pro Washington, he’s charming and interesting but he’s not believable as a tough guy. Until the film unloads some of the most one-dimensional and easy to defeat villains onscreen in quite a while. These are cold-blooded killers [every shirtless Russian has the stars above their heart, an honor earned in blood if Eastern Promises is any indicator] who go out of their way to stumble into every blade, nail, tool, and blunt instrument McCall chooses to kill with. In the film’s first action scene McCall faces a room full of trained killers and it’s hard not to notice the armed men leaving perfect killing positions to run close enough to McCall to be killed and another wait patiently as his cohorts are killed before using his own deadly weapon. The effect is neat, watching this man plow through villains to his own inner clock but it’s cartoonish to the point of lunacy. Once the floodgates are opened mercenaries and Russian killers travel in groups in tight spaces and let their quarry subdue them in all manners of ways and lose handily. Each of them is beaten in all manners of dumb ways, showcasing the most dense of henchmen. Which sadly includes the film’s “big bad” in the person of great character actor Marton Csokas. Here’s a man of action who constantly watches people he sends in to deal with the threat die and then when things get really hairy, HIRES MORE.
It’s a film who introduces the hooker character, has her at the hospital healing, and then disappears her from the movie until the clunky and awful epilogue. It’s a film where our hero visits his also retired former colleagues [I think a movie about Melissa Leo and Bill Pullman spying from their manse might be more intriguing] and somehow gets the green light to wage war in a Home Depot surrogate store. It’s a film where our small time bookworm hero suddenly goes to Russia, takes out more professionals, so he can confront the leader of the entire mob. And mess with his utilities. It’s a film where our hero heals with HONEY. It’s a film where corrupt cops are introduced and then either dismissed to die offscreen or have awkward torture and arrest scenes [a wasted David Harbour].
I realize that fifty percent of the people reading this are now falling in love with this denim fanny pack of a movie. Ridiculous has a place in action films but this isn’t fun. It’s a joyless poseur.
In the hands of the routinely daffy Luc Besson or one of his lesser acolytes with a weaker actor, this is all a load of direct to video fun. Harmless. Here, with an Oscar winning master actor still in his prime and the man who directed the impeccable Training Day, it’s a bit embarrassing. Fun at times, and part of a very successful formula, but embarrassing. The Equalizer is seemingly set in an America somehow dumber than the real one, a place where dumb people die at the hands of slightly less dumb people and the only person who can accomplish anyone is the nutty older dude who reads books at the diner. It reeks of underdeveloped writing and the need to somehow get this project out before anyone in charge remembered that no one gives a shit about The Equalizer as a brand.
Either way, it’s a diversion but it has all the right people and talent to deliver a very competent genre flick. It could have been that role model citizen who delivers thrills with a toe planted in the past with and eye towards the future but instead it plays with marbles in the corner like the kid who hit his head practicing swan dives in the empty pool.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars