The Equalizer and the old 1985-1989 TV show of the same name share just two other commonalities. In both, the main character is an ex-CIA killer. Also in both, he’s named “Robert McCall.” Alrighty then? Moving on. But the rest of the movie, which reunites Denzel Washington with Training Day director Antoine Fuqua, has plenty of things in common with other smalltime crook movies and TV series we’ve already seen and liked a lot better.
As retooled for 2014 by screenwriter Richard Wenk (The Expendables 2), this Equalizer casts Washington as a grieving recent widower who works at a Home Depot-type big box store and keeps his appearance, diet, reading list, and Boston apartment just so. Tight as a drum to keep sadness at arm’s length, he gives fatherly pep talks about commitment and self-betterment to a likable young coworker (Johnny Skourtis) and strikes up a chaste friendship with a young prostitute (Chloe Grace Moretz) who occasionally dines at his favorite local eatery, a place straight out of an Edward Hopper painting. When the girl gets curious about the book he’s currently reading, Don Quixote, he tells her, hammering home for the even dimmest viewer one of the movie’s many unsubtle metaphors: “It’s about a man who wants to be a knight, even though he lives in a time when there are no knights.” Get it? When the movie’s working girl Dulcinea gets brutally beaten, our guy’s knightly instincts come back on line with a vengeance.
Suddenly, he’s a one-man Charles Bronson-esque, Liam Neeson-esque vigilante force, easily invading the posh private office of a restaurant infested with Russian Mafia functionaries and leaving mayhem and wreckage in his wake. He also takes on racist Boston cops and, in the movie’s most idiotically satisfying scene, he decimates his workplace while laying waste to a platoon of goons using everyday home improvement items. Attention shoppers: Whoop ass in Aisles 5-10.
Look, The Equalizer is empty and merely efficient but it’s enjoyable as hell with Washington in solid, focused Man On Fire form. He’s such an old hand at this stuff that he’s able to suggest depths and wheels within wheels no one else around him seems able to muster. Moretz, though, is touching and convincing and Melissa Leo and Bill Pullman, in just a few scenes, bring some heat to the sidelines. Marton Csokas plays the vain, automaton-like villain with shoe polish-dyed hair and he’s fine but unspectacular. Oh, and the finale has franchise written all over it. So if you like The Equalizer, there’s that. ** ½