Do you remember the halcyon days of yore, way back in 2001, when having Denzel Washington’s name and face on a movie poster wasn’t a worrisome thing? When your first thought wasn’t, “I wonder what this shit show is going to be all about”? We hardly knew how good we had it.
Denzel has apparently decided to face down the last few decades of his life with a grimace on his face and a semi-automatic weapon in his hands. There’s no terrorist threat or big bad batch of baddies that he can’t handle. He’s an action star, and those two statues he picked up years back don’t mean shit unless he can use them to bludgeon some evildoer to death.
Calling someone an “action star” didn’t used to feel like an insult either. Hell, for a stretch there, action movies were actually fun, escapist entertainments where the disposal of naughty gents were relatively bloodless affairs and day was saved via a couple of big explosions. Now it’s just a matter of how much red stuff the director wants to see seeping out of the gaping wounds that one lone wolf inflicts upon them.
So it is with The Equalizer, a pseudo-adaptation of an ’80s TV series, starring Denzel as Robert McCall, a quiet man with a dark past; Chloe Grace Moretz as Teri, a hooker with a heart of gold; and a lot of swarthy men with various outlandish accents.
McCall keeps to himself, clocking in and out at the big box home improvement store where he works. He also suffers from insomnia, which he survives by spending his nights at a 24-hour diner. One of the regulars is Teri, the lass with big dreams of being a pop star, but is stuck in the reality of giving handjobs for cash. After the two start making some big connection, the young lady is (of course) beaten up by the Russian thugs that dole out her marching orders. McCall is so affected by this that he attempts to buy her freedom with an envelope of cash. They, of course, scoff and mock the kind man, who in turn responds by killing every last one of them.
Yes, McCall was once some kind of super secret black ops highly trained killer. But you saw that coming a mile away, didn’t you? You should have. How else did you expect director Antoine Fuqua to pad out the next 90 minutes of this high-strung hot mess? This may start out as one man deciding to mete out vigilante justice as a means of protecting some girl he feels a weird connection to a la Taxi Driver. But it quickly devolves into a technologically advanced cat and mouse game with a former government operative deciding to take down the entire Russian mob. Oh, and there’s some feel good shit between McCall and his “Home Depot” co-workers thrown in too. You know, for the ladies.
The muddled storyline is only made worse by having Fuqua at the helm. As he has done for the past 15 years, he attempts to wrap up the style and feel of as many modern action directors as he can into one bulging package. There’s the big John Woo/Wong Kar-Wai closing battle that takes place in pouring rain (which is actually the sprinkler system at the hardware store going off), the Tony Scott/Jerry Bruckheimer big explosion that our hero magically walks away from unscathed, and the Michael Bay sheer idiocy of everything happening on the screen for 2+ hours.
I tried so hard to give myself over to the movie, first trying to enjoy it as a broad comedy, a parody of these kind of one man vs. the world films that are clogging up the multiplexes lately. Then there was a stretch when I thought maybe Fuqua and screenwriter Richard Wenk were on the Trayvon/Michael Brown script flip tip where a black man finds a way to beat the forces of oppression that seek to silence him permanently. Alas, The Equalizer is far too tone deaf and nowhere near smart enough for either scenario to be true. It aims for the cheap seats and makes a huge fucking mess as it does so.