But I digress. Why dwell on this point when there is so very much that is stupid and repugnant and insulting in The Equalizer? Further proof that Hollywood will make a movie adaptation of literally anything that appeared previously in any other medium, The Equalizer is based on the four-season CBS drama starring Edward Woodward as a Jag-driving former spy and one-man A-Team, helping those who no one will help.
Denzel Washington isn’t the first actor I’d have thought of for this one, but he is, it must be said, the best thing about it; the script by Richard Wenk (The Expendables II) may be comically illogical and stunningly misogynistic, but it does give Washington plenty of opportunities to look tough and do that talking-fast-in-a-low-flat-slightly-scratchy-voice thing that has become his default setting lately. And early on, before the picture’s descent into blood and bullshit, he and Chloë Grace Moretz are very good together, the quiet naturalism of their interactions reminiscent of his excellent work with Dakota Fanning in Man on Fire — which makes sense, as this is basically a lobotomized remake of that far better film.
That said, the particulars of their relationship (she’s an underage prostitute, he’s a non-client who befriends and hopes to save her) suggest that Wenk and director Antoine Fuqua fancied this some kind of a junior Taxi Driver, but, y’know, if Travis Bickle were just a chill, wise man of action. In fact, even beyond its TV adaptation roots, The Equalizer is fairly overflowing with recycled parts; Washington’s McCall pre-visualizes correctly how his big fights will go (as in the Ritchie Sherlock Holmes), the business with the dirty Boston cops feels like JV Lahane, the thoroughly unconvincing Russian mafia stuff is left over from a million other movies (“I’ve lost tens of millions today alone!” whines the mob boss), and the climax is, I’m not exaggerating, Home Alone at Home Depot. (It is tempting to think/hope they’re ripping off Straw Dogs, but who’re we kidding — these numbskulls haven’t seen Straw Dogs).
But there’s more to hate here — so much more:
I don’t mean to turn this into one of those obnoxious “everything wrong with” videos, though I should warn the makers of that series that the one for The Equalizer may end up longer than the film’s running time (an unforgivably flabby 131 minutes — so hey, it’s morally bankrupt and aggressively stupid, but at least it’s way too fucking long). Yet after a while, noting the giant plot holes and laughing at the picture’s overinflated self-importance become the closest thing it offers to entertainment. God, what a rotten movie this is.
Washington’s filmography has grown, to put it mildly, peculiar in the years since he won the Oscar for Training Day, his last collaboration with director Fuqua (suffice it to say, I don’t think he needs to clean the tux on account of this one). Aside from his turns in the two films he directed, and 2012’s wildly uneven Flight, he’s mostly steered clear of the dramatic work on which he made his name, only bothering with serious acting when he heads to the New York stage. Instead, he’s mostly occupied onscreen himself with action vehicles, some worthwhile (Déjà Vu, Man on Fire, Unstoppable), some utterly forgettable (Safe House, 2 Guns, The Book of Eli, The Taking of Pelham remake). Who knows why one of our most gifted actors is wasting his time with these films, beyond a nice check. But the sight of Washington slumming it is getting as depressing as it is with De Niro or Pacino — and about as frequent. Maybe this is Fuqua’s speed; after all, his filmography includes Olympus Has Fallen, King Arthur, Shooter, and Tears of the Sun. But Washington is smarter than this dreck. And so are you.