The main character has no identity of his own, and so we as the audience never connect with him or care about what happens.
Over the course of two hours, The Equalizer does not display even a modicum of originality. Instead, it emulates and steals from so many other (better) movies that the overall effect is like watching a clip show episode of a sitcom where everyone sits around remembering past antics as a way for the writers to avoid crafting another 22-minute script. Absent any plausible action or an engaging lead character, The Equalizer is among the worst ’80s TV adaptations to come out of Hollywood.
Denzel Washington, who has taken to sleepwalking through roles in a way that rivals Johnny Depp, plays Robert McCall, an amiable employee at a big-box home improvement store. When he’s not helping a coworker get in shape for a ludicrously rigorous test to become a security guard, he spends most of his time alone reading. His only connection to the outside world is a young prostitute named Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz), whose late-night work schedule coincides with the insomnia that leads him to frequent a neighborhood diner.
Robert’s life is quiet and peaceful until he discovers that Teri’s boss has been roughing her up. As a good Samaritan, he tries to buy Teri out of the life, but Slavi (David Meunier) doesn’t go for it. In a flash of violence, Robert takes out Slavi’s whole crew with the precision of a well-trained and experienced soldier. This awakens in him a monster which has lain dormant for many years. Unhappy with killing only the lowest rung of the Russian mob that runs Boston, Robert begins working his way up the ladder, dropping bodies behind him with every step. It’s not until he meets Teddy (Marton Csokas), a homegrown fixer for the Russian mob, that Robert’s mission encounters a potentially lethal roadblock.
The Equalizer wants so badly to be Drive (with a touch of Eastern Promises), but director Antoine Fuqua doesn’t have the artistic capability to match Nicholas Winding Refn’s brilliant film. As with Drive, The Equalizer begins with a knight in shining armor quietly stalking through a city while maintaining a cloak of near invisibility. Winding Refn’s film, though, makes a knight’s quest possible because it is itself a fairytale, so the brutality can exist in the world of the film. Fuqua and writer Richard Wenk immediately acknowledge that fairytales and knights don’t exist, so everything that transpires over the second and third acts is wildly unbelievable. We know we’re supposed to be rooting for Robert to succeed, but the inciting incident which draws him back into his previous life seems thin, at best.
The character of Robert is clearly just an amalgam of Wenk’s favorite Hollywood tough guys. At various points in the movie, he is Travis Bickle, John Rambo, Rick Blaine, and Jason Bourne. He has no identity of his own, and so we as the audience never connect with him or care about what happens. Robert speaks in pop-Buddhist platitudes, which are shallow and meaningless. Washington delivers his dialogue without emotion, as if he’s simply running lines with the real star. The message is clear: I’m Denzel Washington and that’s good enough for you.
Fuqua, whose previous outing with Washington (Training Day) was a very good film, never settles on a tone or pace for the movie. The first act moves extremely slowly without reason, a choice that is beyond frustrating, because we all know where the movie is going to go. When the action finally begins, Fuqua has no idea how to cover it, cutting so frequently that most of the fights, which appear to have good choreography, are completely incomprehensible. The only good moments of the film are the ones in which Csokas is on screen. His performance is menacing, exactly how the role requires. When Csokas is talking, you listen and try not to wet yourself. | Matthew Newlin