Equalizer, TheReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 09/26/14 07:01:41
Despite my relatively pacifistic nature, I am usually up for a solidly-made vigilante drama in which a seemingly ordinary citizen is finally pushed too far and wreaks brutal vengeance upon those careless enough to wake the sleeping tiger within--kidnappers, murderers, newspaper delivery boys who somehow contrive to drop the Sunday edition in the one small puddle in an otherwise expansive driveway. All I ask from such a movie is that they do one of two things--either deal with the moral, legal and ethical implications of taking the law into one's hands in a plausible and thoughtful manner (as was the case with the original "Death Wish," a far more thoughtful film that it is usually given credit for being thanks to its increasingly squalid sequels) or tell the story in such a stylish and viscerally exciting manner that it is possibly to at least temporarily overlook the absence of those moral, legal and ethical implications (such as the original "Taken," a film that is borderline fascist, to be true, but done in such a shamelessly entertaining manner that one doesn't notice its more troubling aspects until long after it has ended). The hyper-violent and hyper-idiotic "The Equalizer" does neither of those things, nor much of anything else for that matter, and the whole thing is simply a brutal and brutally overblown exercise in cinematic sadism that has clearly deluded itself into thinking that it is much more thoughtful and dramatic than it actually is.The film stars Denzel Washington as Robert McCall, a man seemingly as ordinary and unassuming as his name--he spends his days working at a big-box hardware store and whiles away the wee hours of the evening sitting in a neighborhood diner where the owner is completely cool with a "customer" who not only never seems to order anything but hot water but who brings his own teabags to boot. He seems so ordinary and unassuming, in fact, that it almost seems as if it is only an act and that he in fact possesses a unique set of deadly skills that he has vowed to never use again but nevertheless seems to deploy at the drop of a hat. In his case, these skills include an unwavering loyalty to those he has aligned himself with, an almost preternatural ability to notice things and a willingness to deliver savage beatings and more to anyone who crosses his path the wrong way. For example, the store is robbed one day by some punk who also relieves a clerk of a ring of great sentimental value. The guy gets away but Robert does some hard-core noticing of things that no one could possibly think to look for--the license plate of the guy's car--and uses that information to beat the guy with a hammer from the store's stock that night and returns both the ring and the hammer the next morning. Sure, his heroism is dimmed a little bit when he puts the hammer back on the shelf instead of putting it on the discount table with the other demo models, but you get the point.
One of the few people that Robert has any connection with outside of work is Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz), a fellow diner denizen who yearns to make it as a singer but who is currently working as a prostitute when not eating late-night pie that she never seems to pay for. After Teri lands in the hospital with a savage beating after a job goes wrong, Robert notices a couple of things and soon tracks down and slaughters her pimp and his associates. As it turns out, the stiffs were no anonymous love brokers but guys connected to the Russian mob and they retaliate by sending in Teddy (Marton Csokas), a ruthless fixer determined to track down who did this and eliminate them in order to send a message that killing their men with a corkscrew will not be tolerated. It turns out that Teddy is pretty good at noticing things as well and before long, it turns into a cat & mouse game that finds Robert pulling out the big guns--literally and metaphorically--to get rid of Teddy and his men and protect Teri at all costs that ends, predictably enough, with a bloodbath in the hardware store in which the body count rises slightly higher than that of a typical day at Home Depot. (I suppose I should offer the disclaimer that I have a phobia about stores of this kind because I am terrified that I will be crushed by some implement or other falling from the absurdly high stacks and shelves.)
Those of you with longish memories will recall that "The Equalizer" was originally a Eighties-era television series starring Edward Woodward whose long run was attributable in no small part to the inability of its target audience to find the remote. I can't recall having ever watched an episode of it back in the day but if this screen adaptation is even remotely close to its source of inspiration, I am glad to see that I didn't miss much. As you can tell from the above description, the screenplay by Richard Wenk, the author of such classics as "16 Blocks," "The Expendables 2" and the remake of "The Mechanic," is as pedestrian as can be--there is nothing here that couldn't be found in one of the lesser "Death Wish" sequels or those cut-rate direct-to-video epics that Steven Seagal has been making in Bulgaria for the last decade or so to keep him in bread and butter (mostly the latter). Of course, those movies, whatever their flaws, at least knew how to get to the point while this one clocks in at an unconscionable 131 minutes thanks to a first act that takes forever to get started and a second act so jammed with subplots and side characters that the main storyline almost gets lost amidst the clutter. As for the third act, it is so relentlessly clunky in its efforts to get everyone into the same place for the final ballet of blood to begin that whatever tension the film managed to retain by that point quickly dissipates into sheer ennui.
And yet, even though "The Equalizer" is just another crummy movie based on another half-forgotten television show that has been infused with more blood and brutality than would have been possible to display on the tube back in the day, it is nevertheless being taken seriously in some quarters as it marks the reteaming of director Antoine Fuqua and star Denzel Washington for the first time since "Training Day," the wildly overrated 2001 cop drama that earned Washington his second Oscar. In subsequent years, Fuqua has made a string of dopey action films that have combined inane plots and ridiculous levels of violence into such easily forgettable fare as "Shooter," "Tears of the Sun" and last year's incredibly off-putting "Olympus Has Fallen." His work here is more of the same though even the action sequences are a little more clumsily handled than usual--while McCall's initial attack on the pimps is done in an interesting manner, subsequent set-pieces are not and the finale is just a big mess. As for Washington, he goes through his paces with a certain smooth precision but from the outset, you can tell that this is one of those movies that he is simply cruising through with a minimal effort in exchange for a huge paycheck--while you may not actually catch him yawning during the proceedings, it is an excellent bet that when he gets his AFI tribute, the likes of "Carbon Copy" will likely generate a larger percentage of the career clip reel than this one. The one good performance comes from Chloe Grace Moretz, who is more convincing here than in nonsense like last month's "If I Stay," but since she is kept off-screen for a huge portion of the narrative, her contributions don't do much to help the film as a whole.Grim, gory and relentlessly unexciting, "The Equalizer" is the kind of film that wins a weekend or two at the box office, assuming that there is no real competition at the multiplex, and then disappears so quickly from the collective memory that it is almost as if it never existed at all. However, if you are in the mood for a film in which a well-known actor of a certain age tracks down and does violent things to miscreants, you should instead go out and see the new Liam Neeson vehicle 'A Walk Among the Tombstones." That film may not be perfect--it has a sadistic streak at well that may be hard for some people to take--but it at least has an interesting story going for it as well as an intriguing central character. When that film ended, I could see myself one day wanting to see another installment featuring that character. When "The Equalizer" ended, I just wanted to see another movie--any movie--to clear it out of my mind as quickly as possible.
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