“The Equalizer” is loud, violent and ridiculous.
Those aren’t bad qualities in an action movie, as long as the filmmakers acknowledge what they’re offering and enjoy it. When they think they’re being dark and gritty, everybody’s in trouble. Especially the audience.
Denzel Washington reteams with his “Training Day” director Antoine Fuqua, playing another ruthless tough guy, albeit a much more noble (and less Oscar-worthy) one. Robert McCall lives alone in a modest Boston apartment, works at a home goods store and spends his sleepless nights reading at a diner.
There he befriends Alina (Chloe Grace Moretz), a young prostitute mixed up with Russian gangsters. When her life is threatened by her pimp (David Meunier), Robert uses some old skills to take down the baddies.
“The Equalizer” is based on the 1980s TV series about a former intelligence agent who helped people in dire straits, so obviously Robert doesn’t limit his activities to a few local mob flunkies. He is an invincible killing machine with a need to avenge the innocent and seems to possess unlimited resources. When other characters ask him “Who are you?!” just try not to mutter “I’m Batman.”
As he single-handedly cleans up Boston, Robert gains the attention of a smoothly sociopathic enforcer (Marton Csokas) who answers to a Moscow crime boss and presents the only apparent threat to Robert’s safety. But not really. Any man who can walk just inches ahead of a massive explosion without getting singed (yes, this happens) doesn’t need to worry about some Eurotrash psycho.
In the rare quiet moments, Washington reminds us why he’s a great actor — just watching him read Hemingway is fascinating. As “The Equalizer” packs in more action, he seems to disengage, going through the motions with stoic professionalism, or possibly boredom.
The best scenes have him conversing with Moretz and playing mind games with Csokas, who also deserve better material. Csokas at least seems to understand what kind of film he’s in and dines on the scenery with style.
Fuqua keeps the kills creative, leading to a climax that is equal parts “Friday the 13th” and “Home Alone.” That sounds like fun, but Fuqua has such a heavy touch, the audience will feel brutalized too. A movie this silly shouldn’t take itself this seriously.
Rated R | Time: 2:12