'The Equalizer' review: Fair-to-middling update of a TV show no one remembers
Denzel Washington stars as a charming, if incredibly lethal, man who kills, executes and beats up anyone who stands in his way -- but this time the movie is called "The Equalizer."
In short: Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) leads an unassuming life working at a hardware store - but his mundane routine ends after he befriends a young prostitute (Chloë Grace Moretz) under the control of violent Russian gangsters. McCall decides to use his special forces background to help her and other regular people victimized by criminals and corrupt cops. (Watch the trailer)
Oscar-winner Washington adds dimension and character to a role that, on paper, could be distilled down to "retired Jason Bourne-type helps lower-middle class folk." The main character - whose enigmatic, vague past is never defined - remains interesting simply because Denzel has the range, depth, charisma and gravitas to flesh out an otherwise flat protagonist. Denzel pulls off the charming father-figure to younger characters, as well as the ice cold assassin who stares into his enemy's eyes as they bleed to death.
And there's plenty of bleeding and a lot of death. Washington mows down scores of faceless Russian thugs, using everything from his bare hands to home repair tools. This film isn't just "old man beats up armed goons" - it's more of a "old man systematically and brutally murders dozens upon dozens of armed goons" type of movie. The overall and extensive violence isn't a major problem for this movie - but it actually gets a little boring to watch McCall casually kill or beat down wave after wave of nameless, faceless goons.
Of all the many Russians mobsters, only a couple are given a name and just one is given any sort of interesting characteristics: the main antagonist Teddy (Marton Csokas), who is basically the Russian sociopath counterpart to McCall's empathetic character. The fact that Teddy and McCall are equally skilled killers but different in virtually every other aspect is just one example of the heavy-handed storytelling used here. At one point early on in the film, McCall is not only shown reading "The Old Man and the Sea," but he also breaks down the book's themes - which, spoiler alert, are exactly the same themes McCall faces in this movie. There's also a Don Quixote reference that's so spot-on it's condescending.
"Subtle" cannot be used to describe this movie in any way. It's immediately possible to point to the screen and say "that's a prostitute" or "he's a crooked cop" or "well there's a member of the Russian mob if ever there was one" before these one-dimensional caricatures utter one syllable of dialogue. At one point, the very creepy and violent main antagonist takes off his shirt - to reveal a torso covered in disturbing tattoos ... just to drive home the point that "HE'S THE BAD GUY, GET IT!?"
Despite reteaming "Training Day" director Antoine Fuqua with Washington, this action-thriller is in no way an equal to the 2001 police drama. But despite its many simplicities, cartoonish generalities and utter predictability, "The Equalizer" manages to be a somewhat entertaining (if forgettable & forumalic) action-thriller flick. The real question will be: which version of "The Equalizer" will people remember one year from now? The '80s TV show or this updated adaptation?
Final verdict: Add this film adaptation (that no one asked for) to a list of Washington's movies that are OK-to-mediocre flicks that no one remembers the specific plot points to (ie, "2 Guns," "Safe House," "Man on Fire," etc) but still manage to be at least 51 percent entertaining.
'The Equalizer' opens in theaters nationwide Sept. 26 and is rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout, including some sexual references.