Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
Starring: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloe Grace Moretz, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo
If you were born after 1985, there's a fair chance you're unaware that Denzel Washington's latest attempt to establish himself as an aging action hero, ala Liam Neeson, is a reboot of an 80s TV show. The show starred Edward Woodward as Robert McCall, a former member of an unnamed government agency who now spends his retirement helping those in need. By that, I don't mean visiting homeless shelters, rather McCall spent four seasons taking down all manner of villains, like a one man A-Team.
Save for the title and the name of its central character, there's little carried over for this modern reboot. In the show, Woodward's McCall was a suave, James Bond type who patrolled the streets of New York in a Jaguar. Here, Washington's McCall is a bookworm who works in a hardware store and uses public transport to get around Boston. It's impossible not to attribute these changes to the prevalence of comic book movies. This version of The Equalizer follows the origin story template we've become so numb to, thanks to an abundance of superhero movies. As such, this is the story of how McCall becomes The Equalizer.
Antoine Fuqua's film owes much to the Jason Bourne movies. Like Matt Damon's hero, McCall doesn't have to learn any new skills, he simply has to recall how to use his existing talents. Fuqua's manner of conveying McCall's ability to assess and deal with dangerous situations is tiresome and derivative, slowing down the action and focusing in on minute details, a technique we've seen countless times recently, from Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes to both iterations of the Spiderman series.
[The Equalizer](movie:4448) is at its best in the first act, when McCall is trying his hardest not to get sucked back into his past life of violence. We become privy to interesting facets of his life, like his quest to work his way through a list of 100 books you should read before you die, his insistence on bringing his own tea bags to the local diner, and the OCD that forces him to time the most mundane of tasks.
Having befriended a teenage hooker (Moretz), McCall attempts to set her free from her Russian Mafia pimps after she receives a severe beating. When his peaceful efforts fail, he is forced to call upon his skills and kick Baltic butt. It's at this point that the movie descends into a tiresome action movie, treading familiar ground in mundane fashion.
Washington is in danger of becoming the next Nic Cage, thanks to his choice of projects. It's been a long time since he appeared in anything worthy of his acting talents and charisma. For a time, The Equalizer affords him a chance to display his acting abilities, and it's an intriguing watch. It's when the movie attempts to turn him into an aging Jason Bourne (we even get a Moby tune over the end credits) that it falls apart. His relationship with Moretz provides some of the best moments, but her character is absent for most of the overlong running time.
If you're a fan of the TV show, this update will likely seem blasphemous, as we're not even treated to a remix of Stewart Copeland's iconic theme tune. What we have here is a classic example of Hollywood execs wanting to have their cake and eat it, all too happy to cash in on the name recognition of an existing property, but too embarrassed by the source material to remain true to it.
By Eric Hillis