The 400-Word-Review: The Equalizer
By Sean Collier
September 29, 2014
Not even utterly forgotten ’80s properties are safe from Hollywood’s indiscriminate remake vacuum, as the less-than-significant action series “The Equalizer” finds new life on the big screen. As a case study, there’s a lot to The Equalizer. As a film, not so much — but as a two-hour cinematic argument, it’s a compelling disaster.
Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is an ex-secret agent living incognito as a hardware-store stock boy. He haunts a diner in the early hours, the result of severe insomnia. While there, he strikes up a friendship with Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz), who is enslaved by a Russian prostitution ring. When Robert witnesses Teri’s pimp getting rough, he sets off to win her freedom; unfortunately (and unsurprisingly), this puts him on the wrong side of a criminal network that goes far beyond a cadre of small-time goons.
It feels like there were two camps at work on this whiff. In one, screenwriter Richard Wenk, known for mediocre actioners such as 16 Blocks, The Mechanic and The Expendables 2. (Just the second Expendables. So he was neither good enough to be tapped for the first one nor to be kept for the third.) In the other, everybody else: director Antoine Fuqua, the actors, the production team, score composer Harry Gregson-Williams, the grips, the catering crew, the guy who tore your ticket.
See, Wenk’s screenplay is an unapologetic throwback to the era of the small-screen “Equalizer.” It’s an uncomplicated, snappy action flick pitting one unstoppable good guy against a giant, Russian monolith of evil. There are drawbacks to that tone — horrible treatment of women, minorities and any non-Denzel blacks chief among them — but there is some honesty, if no charm, in fitting that mold. Even if Wenk can’t keep the story together.
Elsewhere, though, it all breaks down. (Uh, even more.) Fuqua and crew approach the project with a deadly-serious attitude; great tricks of editing, cinematography and killer sound design try to make The Equalizer a somber epic. With the script going the other way, though, it frequently gets ridiculous.
Washington and Moretz give fine performances, and Fuqua builds a number of memorable set pieces. But the disconnect between words and pictures here blows away all cohesiveness, and Wenk’s script contains a number of disgusting scenes that further bury The Equalizer. By the time Denzel casually walks away while an entire seaport explodes, you’ll be checking your watch.
My Rating: 4/10