“The Equalizer” Movie Review

     Director Antoine Fuqua teams with Denzel Washington for the first time since guiding him to a Best Actor Oscar for his performance in “Training Day” with the new thriller “The Equalizer”, based on the 80s television show.  Fuqua and his team have refashioned the common elements of the show and modernized them to better fit the gritty stylistic violence both he and Washington are used to delivering.  Washington is Robert McCall, a simple man when we first see him, who projects the expected charm when needed, but you always have the feeling there is something of a mystery within his being.  Why can’t he sleep?  Why does he find himself reading books while sipping tea at a 24 hour diner each night?  And what’s with the over the top obsessive compulsive habits?  By day, McCall works at a Home Depot knock off and seems normal enough.  His younger co-workers debate amongst themselves what his previous occupation was, a topic he handles with humorous response.  As is the case with most films of this genre, just don’t piss him off.

     Including “Training Day”, Washington has starred in several films which have him playing a mild mannered character who happens to possess a wide range of skills mainly used to kill bad people in inventive and original ways.  “Man On Fire” immediately comes to mind, and at 59 years old, Washington finds himself right in line with his other fellow older action stars including the entire “Expendables” cast and most notably Liam Neeson with his ongoing “Taken” series.  With so much to compare “The Equalizer” to, Fuqua definitely had his hands full while attempting to create some kind of original hook so as to keep the film from devolving into something Steven Seagal would’ve been better suited for.  Unfortunately, there’s not much here in the originality department, but action fans will likely be pleased with Fuqua’s ability to deliver consistent entertainment, especially in the second and thirds acts.

     During his nightly appearances at the diner, McCall befriends a young prostitute named Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz), who comes in nightly as well for pie.  Teri sees McCall as safe and unthreatening and shares the fact she wants to be a singer, even providing him with a CD of her music.  She longs for normal conversation, so much so that she ignores her phone when she’s talking to McCall, a decision she will come to regret.  Teri works for a Russian run call girl service that keeps the girls in line by way of violent consequences.  When Teri is put in the hospital at the hands of her pimp, Slavi (David Meunier), that mysterious past we were wondering about with McCall suddenly surfaces.  He apparently has a soft spot for the weak and those who cannot defend themselves and thus decides to elicit a little street justice.

     In the most brazen way possible, McCall walks into the private bar area of the Russian restaurant which fronts for the prostitution ring.  In the same vein as “True Romance”, McCall tries to peacefully buy Teri’s freedom from Slavi only to be rejected and told to leave.  Fuqua populates this scene with 4 or 5 of your standard tatted up mean looking Russian gangsters and it is easily predictable where the sequence is headed.  With brutal precision, McCall kills each man in the room by way of both martial arts and weapons skills that certainly indicate he had another occupation prior to working at the home improvement store. 

     You may guess that his killing of these men will have the typical gangland consequences.  The Russian boss responsible for all of the organized crime in the area dispatches a hit man named Teddy (Marton Csokas) to track down and kill McCall and he doesn’t seem to want to follow the rules.  Fuqua presents this guy in the ultimate stereotypical fashion when it comes to this type of film’s usual kind of antagonist.  We see him shirtless, revealing a completely tattooed torso as he does stretching and breathing exercises.  This is meant to have him seem menacing and dangerous.  He is also seen in fine restaurants drinking expensive liquor and enjoying high end meals while he calmly gives orders to his henchman who will be the inevitable first wave of attack.  His investigations begin with polite threats, but quickly have him beating people to death who dare disagree with his plan of action.  In other words, the primary adversary for McCall throughout the film is nothing more than a carbon copy villain seen countless times in better movies.

     Eventually, Teddy catches up with McCall by way of a predictable move in which he takes some of his co-workers from the home store hostage.  This leads to an overlong cat and mouse sequence in which Teddy and his highly armed soldiers attempt to find McCall in his darkened place of work.  For what it’s worth, McCall would make Rambo proud with his inventive way of using everyday tools and products as deadly weapons, but the overall sequence is mere fodder for the obligatory showdown between McCall and Teddy.  For his part, Washington delivers a performance as solid as you would expect, further cementing his status as one of this generation’s finest actors.  If the film lacks in one particular aspect, it’s the script, which significantly limits the effectiveness of both Washington and Fuqua by playing it safe with the more common tropes of the genre rather than pushing the characters into new and uncharted territory.  GRADE: C