Courtesy of Sony Pictures Releasing

The Equalizer

01:00 January 01, 1970
By: Fritz Esker

** out of ****

Action movies with badass old guys have become increasingly popular since Liam Neeson scored an unexpected hit with Taken. 59-year-old Denzel Washington joins the fray in The Equalizer, an adaptation of the popular TV show of the late 1980s (sadly, original star Edward Woodward did not live long enough to cameo in this film). The result isn’t bad, just mundane.

The 131-minute movie takes its time getting started, but not in a bad way as it introduces viewers to former CIA operative Robert McCall (Washington). He works at a Home Depot-style store, dispensing friendly advice to his younger co-workers, then dines alone while reading classic literature at a local diner. There, he strikes up a friendship with a teenage prostitute (Chloe Grace Moretz), who is roughed up by her pimps in the Russian mob. Naturally, he reverts to his old ways in an attempt to secure justice for his friend.

So far, so good. Displaying his usual effortless movie-star charm, Washington is convincing in the setup. But once he turns into an avenging angel, the film, with the exception of the occasional witty interlude, bogs down in endless scenes of him killing Russian mobsters in increasingly creative ways. It’s almost like watching a Friday the 13th movie if Jason were the good guy and Eastern European thugs replaced horny teenagers as the recipients of over-the-top death scenes.

Much like it is for horror movie bad guys, it all comes too easy for Washington’s character. With the exception of one slightly protracted fight with a henchman in the film’s ho-hum climax, he just breezes through his orgy of revenge without a setback or missing a beat. You never feel like he’s in any real danger or that the villains are any match for him. It drains the tension from the film.
In 2012’s superior Jack Reacher, the then 50-year-old Tom Cruise also played a virtuous killing machine plowing through bad guys. But that film had a more consistent sense of humor, plus better plotting, plus a better villain, plus stronger supporting characters. The Equalizer puts a good actor in a promising role, then leaves him stranded.

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