From 1985 to 1989, The Equalizer was a solid performer on CBS—the adventures of an ex-spook who acted as a one-man A-Team of sorts, farming himself out to the wronged and downtrodden. Now we get a feature film version starring Denzel Washington, and frankly I’m still wondering what the two have to do with each other. Any similarity to the original TV show is purely coincidental, except for the main character’s name. In fact, the film could have very easily starred Jason Statham and been called The Shooter Guy or starred Russell Crowe (who was originally attached to the project) and been called The Violent Helper Person.
Inspiration (or lack thereof) aside, though, The Equalizer falls prey to a steady stream of blunders, and the end result is something of a letdown. Entire subplots should have been jettisoned, the heavy-handed script is laughable in parts, and, sorry, but I think we can all agree that the whole Teflon Hero bit has run its course. Seriously, I got injured more cooking dinner last night (a little nick on my thumb) than our hero does in an hour-long shootout with Russian mob bosses armed with automatic weapons.
Washington is Robert McCall, a retired something-high-level loner guy who is better at disarming and dispatching bad guys than most people are at brushing their teeth. He kills time during the day as a clerk at a big box home improvement store in Boston, and at night he sits by himself in the local diner reading literature and sipping hot tea. There he meets teenage Russian hooker Alina (Chloe Grace Moretz in a woefully underused role), and when he hears one day that she’s been sent to the ICU after her pimp used her for batting practice, he (quietly and methodically) springs into action.
In one of the film’s more exquisitely choreographed bits, McCall takes out five thugs in a matter of nineteen seconds. (McCall times himself with his stopwatch.) But when it turns out that the gents were part of the Russian mafia, he quickly becomes a high-level target himself. Cue the carnage and generally bloody mayhem.
Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) occasionally manages to overcome the weak screenplay and give us some genuine tension-filled moments, but more often than not, he falls into cliché mode. Yes, Virginia, there is a “Cool Guys Don’t Look at Explosions” moment.
The script by Richard Wenk (The Mechanic) is the real culprit here, though. And the crimes range from misdemeanors (at various points, McCall reads and quotes from Don Quixote, The Old Man and the Sea, and The Invisible Man– allegory much?) to felonies (the entire third act is Die Hard at Home Depot).
The saving grace in all this is Washington himself, oozing his usual calm-cool. It’s yet another powerhouse performance, and it makes me even more convinced that he could make a doctoral defense on the migration patterns of geese sound interesting. Alas, though, it’s not enough to save The Equalizer from landing as little more than a rote good-guy/bad-guy gunfight flick.